It would be a nearly impossible task to adequately portray the fullness of a life like that of Sir Ranulph Fiennes within the confines of even a nearly two hour feature documentary, though director Matthew Dyas certainly gives it his best shot and turns out one of the year's most exciting and engaging documentaries with the appropriately named Explorer.
Fiennes is, indeed, an explorer. In fact, he is considered by many to be the world's greatest living explorer. And yes, I'll confess that I was somewhat shocked to realize that Fiennes is now 78-years-old and as recently as 2019 was featured in three-part National Geographic documentary called Egypt with the World's Greatest Explorer.
Oh, and just in case you're wondering "Yes!" he is related to acclaimed actor Ralph Fiennes. They are third cousins, once removed.
Explorer greatly benefits from Dyas's history in capturing natural history on film. The film is a balanced tapestry of archived adventures, stoic yet emotionally resonant interviews, and I'd dare say a rather remarkable love story.
First, the basics on Sir Ranulph:
*Sir Ranulph was the first to circumnavigate the world from pole to pole
*Sir Ranulph cross the Antarctic on foot
*Four months after having a heart attack and having a double coronary artery bypass surgery, Sir Ranulph participated in the Land Rover 7x7x7 Challenge and completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.
*After a couple of near misses, Sir Ranulph became the oldest brit to reach the summit of Mount Everest
*Sir Ranulph has raised over $14 million for charities.
*He's the author of 24 fiction and non-fiction books
And so much more!
So remarkable are Sir Ranulph's exploits that there are times you just sit there watching the screen in disbelief. Explorer captures Sir Ranulph's perseverance and remarkable creativity. While he has not succeeded in all of his attempts, Explorer vividly portrays just how he becomes completely consumed by these adventures and how so often they are also fundraisers for his respected charities.
The truth is that I'm not sure a documentary about Sir Ranulph, who prefers to go by "Ran," would have worked that well earlier in his life. A stoic man, there's barely a crack in his facade throughout a good majority of Explorer. While known for steely perseverance, Ran is not particularly known for self-disclosure - one of several traits likely to have earned him his share of enemies but many more admirers. However, with Dyas it's fair to say that Ran is in a different place in life and this was magnified in 2004 after the death of his childhood sweetheart Ginny. This love story, brought tenderly to life by Dyas, was clearly an inspiration for Ran even if he didn't always profess it to be so. While the couple had long been unable to have children, prior to her death from stomach cancer Ginny had instructed him to remarry and have a child.
Ran did so a year after Ginny's death when he married Louise and they had a child.
Still, the grief that Ran has experienced over Ginny's death is palpable throughout the film.
There are so many other wonderful aspects to Explorer, though it's best to experience them for oneself when the film arrives on digital and on-demand on August 30th. Not a lot of documentaries can justify a two-hour running time, however, Explorer left me wanting to spend more time with the Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Director Matt Dyas says, “In Explorer, I wanted to create a compelling portrait of the real man behind the myth, and between the cracks of the ordinary and the extraordinary, I hope audiences see for themselves an intimate side to his personality and the motivations that drive him.”
Explorer is a Good Productions film in association with British Film Institute (BFI) and Universal Pictures Content Group. Directed by Matt Dyas and produced by BAFTA and Emmy-nominated George Chignell (Citizen K, Searching for Sugar Man, I Am Ali).
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic