It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
To ski down Everest. The notion is at once magnificent and ridiculous, brave and silly. To spend $3 million, to muster an expedition of 850 men and 27 tons of equipment, to sacrifice six lives in order to photograph a man skiing down a mountain for four minutes . . . what a peculiar and wonderful thing we have here in the human ego.
The man who did it is Yuichiro Miura. In 1964, he set a world ski speed record of 108 miles an hour. According to his best calculations, he would surpass that speed in the first seven seconds of his descent of Everest. To decrease his chances of setting additional records (including the record for an inadvertent descent all the way to Nepal,) he decided to use a drag parachute on his way down the mountain.
No one, not even a skydiver, had used a parachute before at 27,000 feet, and there was some question of how effective it would be. Too effective and he might be airborne. Not effective enough, and c'est la vie. "The Man Who Skied Down Everest," the film of Miura's adventure, won this year's Academy Award for best documentary. That's all the more remarkable because the expedition wasn't undertaken in the first place with a film in mind. Miura arrived at his idea after what's described as a "half-joking conversation" with Sir Edmond Hillary. Presumably, it was Hillary who was joking.
Miura warmed up with practice runs down Mounts McKinley and Fuji, and went down Everest in 1970. Some 320,000 feet of film were shot during the expedition, but they weren't edited into a theatrical documentary until last year. The result is a movie hard to make up our minds about; it's awesome in its photography of the mountain, it's thoughtful and analytical in its narration and yet we're stuck with the question of whether this trip was necessary.