If you have a yen to yodel, sample Swiss chocolate, wind a cuckoo clock or climb a mountain throughout the month, you should get yourself over to the Orlando Science Center, where your passions for all things Switzerland will be more than satisfied by The Alps, screening through spring.

Part breathtakingly beautiful travelogue, part thrilling mountain-climbing adventure, director Stephen Judson has captured the grandeur of the high-peaked Alps, which are shown to best advantage on the giant IMAX screen.

VERTIGO ALERT!!! Anyone who is vertically challenged or even gets dizzy looking down from a three-story building should NOT see this film. The IMAX camera drifts lazily over magnificent snow-covered mountain peaks and then – gasp! – looks down thousands of feet to the valleys below. There are a couple of shots of mountain climbers clinging to the sheer side of a mountain thousands of feet above the ground; you may be ready to shout, “Oh, no!”

There also are lovely vistas of tiny villages clinging precariously to the hills below the mountains, of brightly colored trains traveling into mountain tunnels, of a delicate waterfall splashing hundreds of feet down the face of a mountain and of tiny gardens stacked up on flat plots of land carved from mountainsides. These sights will make you want to book a tour to Switzerland as soon as you leave the theater, which is no doubt why the Swiss tourist board had a hand in producing the film.

But there’s a thrilling adventure at the center of The Alps, too. The film follows American John Harlin III’s attempt, at age 49, to climb the mile-high north face of the Eiger, a climb that claimed the life of his father 40 years earlier. It’s part sentimental journey, part trying to get back at the Eiger for taking his father’s life.

With his wife and young daughter watching nervously from below, Harlin sets off on the three-day climb with two other climbers, a man and a woman. At one point the camera focuses in on all three of them in a medium shot as they pick their way up the Eiger. Then it slowly pulls back and back and back until they look like tiny specks clinging to this massive rock. It’s very effective.

There’s tension as they try to make their way up ice-covered rocks; Harlin slips and falls off the side, although only a short distance. MacGillivray Freeman Films, which produced The Alps, did the well-received Everest several years earlier and they obviously learned a lot from that experience. By focusing on one man – one who has such an intimate connection with the Eiger – they’ve made The Alps a very personal experience. Because of that, the audience can project a personality for the mountain as well, and it’s a menacing one.


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