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January 9, 2015

Film + EntertainmentReview | by James Joseph

Actors Edwin Wright and Tama Jarman

You would be hard-pressed to miss the encapsulating true story of 11 brave men, prepared for one of the most dangerous salvage operations in aeronautical history. Erebus: Into The Unknown is a documentary which mixes archive footage, still photography, re-enactments and interviews to retell the story of the tragic events of November 28th, 1979 when a jet with 257 passengers went missing during a sightseeing tour over Antarctica. There were no survivors, making this international incident one of the worst aviation disasters of all time.

Filmmakers Charlotte Purdy and Peter Burger cleverly maneuvered their way around a mixed bag of artistic challenges in order to realise this documentary, some 35-years-in-the-making. The film is so heartfelt one can only imagine how intense the actual recovery mission must’ve been. The story of a courageous team of supervised professionals, with no prior snow-survival experience, strikes a chord with every other film about the human spirit and the fortitude of human endurance, yet finds its own way of handling such themes.

The film opens with a disclaimer informing us that distressing images are about to follow the unsettling sounds of a helicopter and its rescuers, making their descent onto the icy landscape of Antarctica. The tension plummets, addressing us, in the form of frost on the crash that led a brave team of New Zealand Police Officers to, through and into the completion of their mission. Often depicted as more than just a tumultuous task, the film reminds us that hope was all those men had in this 14-day purge into the unknown.

Within hours of the crash, the 11 ordinary, untrained police officers that were called to duty had to face the terrifying terrain known only as Mount Erebus. The team would have to undertake gruelling conditions and 12-hour shifts to complete the recovery mission in order to return the bodies to their respective families.

The filmmakers begin to track the story alongside the passing of the deceeased… and with it follows closure, making for a tidy viewing of this fascinating documentary — like most great films should be. Time and time again the film proves to be quiet, calm and peaceful, yet juxtapose that with the tormenting sounds of anguish, and you have a film which honours any painting of light, beguiling the cinema in the process.

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Erebus is a truly enthralling cinematic experience which leaves behind the same love and hope the passengers of the misplaced Flight TE901 have left behind. There is a sense of moving on but also the lack of a conclusion. A musical concerto soundtracks the drama as it unfolds in the film, but it is the 11 brave souls that are honoured, and not the passing.

Erebus: Into The Unknown is released in UK cinemas on January 9th and on DVD/VOD January 12th.

Jonathan Lim