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Review: 'Wampler's Ascent' fails to reach the heights

Amateur cinematography, overreaching aspirations and sparse detail mar documentary meant to serve as an inspirational fundraiser.

August 22, 2013|By Annlee Ellingson
  • A scene from "Wampler's Ascent"
A scene from "Wampler's Ascent" (Corey Rich )

"Wampler's Ascent" is certainly an inspiring story: Stephen J. Wampler, who turns 45 this week, has been afflicted with cerebral palsy since birth, but he doesn't let that stop him from climbing El Capitan, one of the biggest rock faces in the world. His goal is to reach the top, of course, but also to raise awareness and funding for Camp Wamp, a wilderness experience for physically disabled kids.

As cinema, however, the film comes up short. The documentary by Stephen's wife, Elizabeth, charts his incredible undertaking through newscasts about the feat and home video shot during his six-day ascent. The TV clips get repetitive and risk sounding self-congratulatory, while the original footage suffers from sound irregularities — these amateur cinematographers could have really used some microphone windscreens.

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Meanwhile, at just 76 minutes, "Wampler's Ascent" lacks logistical details. The film doesn't explain, for example, that Stephen has only limited use of one limb. It glosses over his severe dehydration, hallucinations and the fact that he passed out twice. It skips the part about actually getting him over the lip of the cliff and, other than the fact that Marines were involved, how he gets back down. Even as a fundraising tool, the project neglects to demonstrate how Camp Wamp benefited from the exposure.

Focused on the task at hand and exhausted from the effort, Stephen is often authentically moving, but on the ground, a manufactured awareness that this is all being filmed — along with a treacly score — mars the feel-good atmosphere.


"Wampler's Ascent"

No MPAA rating

Run time: 1 hour, 16 minutes

Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills


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