As far as I know, The Alps from Above has not been screened theatrically in the United States, which is too bad because it contains some absolutely spectacular footage that cries out for the engulfing presence of a large screen. Its swooping shots of Alpine peaks, glaciers, and lush greenery would absolutely kill in IMAX. But even on the relatively humble screen of a TV or computer, this is still a magnificently beautiful movie. This movie was pared down from a 10-episode German TV series into a consistently engaging 90 minutes that showcases what are surely the series’s most stunning shots. Some of the footage has an almost abstract beauty, gazing down on harsh landscapes that look like weirdly compelling modern-art sculptures. I was particularly struck by a long shot tracing the path of a boulder that had torn down the side of a hill, tumbling into the valley below. From a distance it looks as if a massive scar has been sliced into the side of the hill.
The Alps from Above highlights the staggering diversity of the Alps, from the snowy peak of Mont Blanc to the craggy dolomites of Tyrol to the lush greenery of the Bavaria. As its title suggests, the movie is composed almost entirely of aerial footage of the Alps, which produces the movie’s intoxicating effect. We are used to seeing mountains from below, looking up at their altitudinous peaks, but here we see them from the vantage point of a God, looking down on their hugeness with the ground so far below. The movie particularly focuses on human interactions with the Alpine landscape—free skiing down treacherous slopes, a tightrope walk between two incredibly high cliffs, herding sheep, driving scenic highways, riding funiculars, damming lakes, building high-end real estate, and all the rest.
The title of the movie also features a rather grandiose subtitle, “A Symphony of Summits,” which is not entirely appropriate. The majesty of the scenery aside, there is is nothing particularly symphonic about the movie. Its construction is pretty conventional, moving slightly awkwardly from one subject to the next (perhaps to be expected given the film’s origin as a much longer series). As well, the accompanying score is hardly a symphony and is frankly pretty dull. There is also an unnecessary narration that, while occasionally offering an interesting fact or two, feels largely perfunctory. It doesn’t help that it’s delivered with the bland cheeriness of a tourism documentary—even when this tone is rather inappropriate, such as an oddly perky delivery when telling us about Ludwig II’s mysterious death. One might be better off muting the audio altogether and putting on some Wagner.