In a world of ever-increasing mining of existing properties for prequels and spin-offs, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine someone would set out to make a whole movie about the opening sequence of “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”.
Of course, that was fantasy and “Free Solo” is reality and although the climbing of El Capitan is the film’s crowning glory, the real hook of the documentary is in its exploration of what drives Alex Honnold to do what he does, proving that there’s so much more to the compulsion to climb a mountain than ‘because it’s there’.
It’s an almost incomprehensible feat that, if you weren’t there with him on the climb thanks to the astonishingly well-executed technical achievements of documentary filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, you’d struggle to believe them, let alone that someone would want to do it in the first place. And yet, Honnold always seems relatable and, for want of a better word, normal. Although he does the extraordinary, he comes across as passionate but grounded and always aware of the gravity – and mortality – of his situation.
Through the practice runs and injuries and setbacks, the filmmakers keep things moving, bolstered by a nail-biting score from Marco Beltrami and in the end ’s score helps to underscore the gut-wrenching, dizzying tension of the climb. It’s profoundly inspirational, in a no-way-in-Hell am I planning to climb a mountain – with or without ropes – but the determination and focus required to climb an almost vertical granite wall in just under four hours when, at any point, the slightest error would cost him his life brings your own life and challenges into sharp perspective.
A literally breath-taking viewing experience, while I don’t want to wade into the Spielberg v Netflix cinema v home viewing debate, I will say that “Free Solo” made me very, very glad that our TV broke down a couple of weeks ago and we ‘had’ to get a new, bigger 4K set just in time for this movie’s exhilarating visuals.