No, it’s not a previously-unannounced quickie sequel to the Star Wars film Solo. Instead, this is a 2018 documentary that has deservedly won both Bafta and Oscar awards, concerning rock climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to conquer the first free solo climb of El Capitan’s 900-metre vertical rock face at Yosemite National Park – something we are assured by professionals in the doc is both a terrifying and awe-inspiring challenge.
Well, I have to agree on the terrifying bit. I’ll be clear here- I do not like heights. Hate ’em. I can be standing on a bridge, look over the edge and feel my legs turn to jelly (happened the other week at Ironbridge looking down at the river flowing below). I can have similar sensations looking down the well of a flight of stairs and the less time I spend up a set of ladders the better. So suffice to say watching the climbing sequences in this film -which are the real thing, no recreations etc- my knees were crawling up into my stomach. It was utterly terrifying. I don’t think I’ve felt such genine tension watching something in ages.
Alex Honnold is a genuine mystery to me- I will never figure out how he does what he does or why, but I can certainly admire his accomplishments. I won’t call it bravery (to me it’s as much insanity as bravery, but that’s just me speaking as someone who cannot stand heights). Free Solo makes some attempt to get into his psyche but I fear he’s just a different animal to me, I’ll never understand what makes him tick. Where the film really scores is its photography of his climb and how it conveys the sense of height and danger in every moment. Its almost tangible and quite unique – again, there’s my fear of heights talking. Maybe I’m not qualified to objectively judge this film at all.
I know one thing. I’ll be having a few drinks before I dare rewatch this damn thing.
Shown commercial-free (to be honest, for once I could have done with the breaks, the damn thing was like an endurance test) on Sunday night on the National Geographic HD channel, I’m confident as it was co-financed by the channel it will get plenty of repeats and failing that, the film is available on Blu-ray. Not to be missed.