Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Am Alive (2010)

Like ants placed in the middle of an ice box

Since two motion pictures, A & E, PBS and National Geographic have jumped in after the newspapers and best selling books, The History Channel gives it their turn surprisingly with a formative take even after all of the documentation before it. This time around the main perspective comes from Fernando "Nando" Parrado who played a key role in the Andes plane crash of 1972. The Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 involved 45 passengers, including a team of rugby players called The Old Christians and other family and crew, who were on their way to Chile with no danger in sight until the pilot makes a grave error that caused everyone involved to make impossible decisions to hang on for survival in a weather stricken region with no wildlife or vegetation in sight.

A share of the tone of this documentary is somewhat calm and relaxed and more text book at first than other mediums that have concentrated on putting the audience in the now from a dramatic side. Towards the latter half with Nando and Roberto going through the mountains, they can't help but tell the story with straight feelings, as that's all they had to back them, apart from their skin and bones which nearly gave out. Both of the segments from A & E's "Minute by Minute" from 2002 and National Geographic's "Trapped" from 2007 tried to do the subject in under an hour by concentrating on the main portions of action, but still didn't give a completely thorough approach or show exactly how they got to each one of their motivations apart from jumping dot to dot. Those served more as introduction pieces to further the ambitions of upstarting TV shows and point to another medium. Though "I Am Alive" stands on its own by being thoroughly researched, even if you've seen the other documentaries on the subject. It doesn't seem forced with distracting poetic license or snazzy filmmaking. While they still give some brief reenactments, this focuses on getting a clear perspective from facts and fine details with passionate interviews from the survivors and related experts who still find the experience endearing and engrossing this many years later. This includes mostly spoken English with some overdubbed Spanish.

"I Am Alive" unfolds like a picture book with a share of information and visual representations of the accident and the 72 days that followed. While moving "Stranded" documentary from 2007 focused on the spiritual bonding of friends and how they viewed their situation from an emotional context, this is by far out of the documentaries that I've seen the one that gives the most clear and concise technical understanding. For instance, precisely how and why the plane crashed. There are even diagrams with historians telling their track record. "Of the 78 Fairchild FH-227s built, 23 crashed, and there were a total of 393 fatalities." There are real life pictures of where they hit the mountains, and then CGI graphics to show how lucky they were to land just so to have not made a sudden impact and disintegrated. The surrounding area is shown of exactly where they ended up on the side of Argentina, not in Chile like the pilots anticipated.

As the events come up, the experts give facts about head injuries, starvation, avalanches, inventing devices from supplies, traveling through the Andes and mountaineering. A climber and a team went back to cover some of the same distances Nando and Roberto did, which took them 10 days and 37 long and hard miles till they seen green. Photos were taken of the road that Roberto saw from the top of the first summit that they argued about at the time if they should head that way, but at that point being lost, unsure and hungry and then making the wrong move could have been life or death. I found it interesting that they discussed if they went east towards Argentina instead of west towards Chile if their chances would have improved. In the after author Piers Paul Read talks about his book "Alive" and the fear from the survivors of how it would be written after all of the sensationalist press around the globe.

What's mostly effective about "I Am Alive" is they weren't frequently making justifications for their actions after the fact. Nando carries the bulk and speaks somewhat unscripted as if he knows the story like the back of his hand. At times they still speak their piece, such as Nando calling what they did "anthropophagy" rather than cannibalism, since it didn't follow murder. At other times he speaks rather candidly, such as explaining that the avalanche saved the remaining people's lives due to it covering them from further storms, and then incidentally taking 8 more bodies that they used for food for the remaining days till they could trek out when weather conditions improved. It says a lot for him and the 15 others, but not so much for those that didn't make it out. It does state some facts a little directly and somewhat coldly as a result, though, on the other hand, it leaves room for the viewer to decide their stance. What makes this work is it's capable of uncovering more answers from stepping back somewhat and not making this completely a heavy hitter that "Stranded" already did so well.

Rating: 9/10

Director: Brad Osborne
Link: IMDB

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