Everest is not a movie you want to see in IMAX if you have a problem with heights – the 3D is terrifyingly good, even when the big storm hits. Otherwise, it’s a movie that is easy to appreciate – even if ‘enjoy’ might not be the exact word to describe the experience you’ll have watching it.
In May of 1996, a number of teams attempted to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. With a storm on the way, a number of them turned back, but a few – a team led by Adventure Consultants owner/guide Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), one led by the laid back Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) and one led by the ultra-macho, oxygen-spurning Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Sigordsson) – figured they had enough of a window to summit and retreat before the store hit. They were half right.
Everest opens with climbers from around the world traveling to Katmandu, Nepal where they meet the crews that will get them to the summit of Everest. Among them are confident Texan John Beck (Josh Brolin); everyman-type Doug (John Hawkes), a mailman who has tried (and failed) before; Yasuko (Naoko Mori), a 47-year old woman who has scaled six of the seven great summits but not Everest), and John Krakauer (Mike Kelly), who is writing the climb up for Outside magazine.
It’s a busy spring on Everest – there are twenty teams trying to summit and the base camp resembles a small army encampment. Adventure Consultants has the poshest base HQ, run by logistics coordinator Helen (Emily Watson) and staff doctor, Caroline Mackenzie (Elizabeth Debicki).
Once the characters have been introduced and reach base camp, Everest shifts a couple of gears. The training for the Everest climb is tough and some of the climbers won’t get past the first or second of the three camps before the final assault.
Few of the characters are really well developed beyond Rob, Beck and Doug – but the actors give them sufficient presence that we can, if barely, relate to them. In the case of Rob and Beck, we do meet their wives – Jan (Keira Knightley) and Peach (Robin Wright) – but only for brief moments and only for scenes that seem like they’ve drifted in from other movies.
Once the final ascent begins, the tension becomes palpable. Between the superb cinematography and the mix of the natural and CG – not to mention the extremely good 3D – we were on the edge of our seats (the IMAX screening I attended was sold out and if the sound had gone off, you could have heard a pin drop). And the nasty weather and tortured descent was yet to come.
It’s a matter of record that of the twenty-odd climbers who went up the mountain, eight did not make it back. That doesn’t keep the film from crushing the hearts of its audience as it depicts those deaths – and the impartiality of nature.
Director Baltasar Kormakur’s one major flaw is that, once the training begins, he rarely lets up on the intensity – and a lesser flaw might be that certain scenes, as mentioned above, seem to drift in from other movies (less ambitious versions of the story).
His strengths are his eye – between him and cinematographer Salvatore Totino, Everest is one terrifyingly beautiful film (as I said, if you have a fear of heights, this is not the movie for you) – and his ability to make historical events that are relatively well known feel fresh and immediate.
As one of the climbers notes, the mountain always has the last word. In the case of Everest, the word is intense.
Final Grade: A-
Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures