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'The Alps' a deep breath of pure adrenaline


Last updated 4/19/2007 at Noon

MacGillivray Freeman’s “The Alps” takes viewers on an awe-inspiring journey across the Alps to Switzerland’s 15,000-foot-tall Eiger (like the Matterhorn), where three climbers come face to face with their personal God of free will and natural catastrophes and their supernatural God of the unknown while soaring to the top of this treacherous peak.

John Harlin III is connecting with a specter that has possessed him since his father died on the Eiger 40 years before. Daniella and Robert are a “wild and crazy” Swiss climbing couple who live at the base of the mountain. The trio will soon battle tumbling rocks of limestone, frigid conditions and the vertical three-day journey using only picks, ropes and crampons.

As they start off ahead of the rising sun, John remains focused on passing the spot where his father’s frayed rope was cut by a sharp rock, sending him tumbling to the glacier and rocks below. The younger Harlin keeps repeating that he isn’t climbing the Eiger so he can die but as a tribute to his father.

Every move is calculated because there is no room for errors: count each step up and each step down. To explain why these three would tackle the mountain when they have children is just short of an act of God – or a very hefty life insurance policy.

Why do bad things happen?

Every year, 700 people die from being electrocuted by toasters; 750 die from being hit by lightning. Bad things happen because of free will and natural catastrophes, and those three courageous climbers freely took that chance even though others had died willing to do the same.

In contrast, the only risk to the movie’s viewers is traveling to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (though some might consider climbing the Eiger a safe alternative to San Diego drivers).

The journey on which MacGillivray takes viewers is steep and absorbing. He answers many interesting questions throughout, like how long the climbers can stay at the summit. (Twelve minutes, apparently, which isn’t much time for a picnic.)

The actual picnic was at the film’s opening, where attendees were welcomed by falling snow, Swiss horns and accordions, a couple of yodels and fanciful food. There was nothing like “ementhal gebacken” – Swiss fried cheese – but enough Swiss people showed to make a human chain up the Eiger. (Not!)

There are plenty of surprises in this movie from John Harlin, the adrenaline addict. Maybe most exciting is how you will feel after you see the film and walk out feeling a rush of enthusiasm to create new goals for life, to search for answers to the big questions and breathe in a magical place – “The Alps.”


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