Everest reduces historic challenge to mountain of cliches
The best disaster films leave you wondering how you would cope faced with such tremendous adversity and impossible odds on survival in the wake of a completely unexpected event. Everest won’t be climbing to the peak of the genre. Beyond its snow-covered chaos and majestic views, there’s little to keep you invested.
The film is based on Jon Krakauer’s first-hand account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Following a major snowstorm, eight people died attempting to summit Earth’s highest mountain.
Director Baltasar Kormákur (2 Guns) slogs through the first hour juggling multiple character introductions and setting the stage for the disaster to follow.
Friendly-rival expedition leaders Rob Hall (Jason Clarke, Terminator Genysis) and Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal, Southpaw) take their groups to Everest on a death-defying adventure of personal achievement.
Along for the climb are Beck (Josh Brolin, Guardians of the Galaxy), a boisterous Texas doctor; Doug (John Hawkes, Lincoln), a mailman hoping his latest chance to summit will be the charm and journalist Krakauer (Michael Kelly, Man of Steel), chronicling the expedition for a piece on summit commercialization.
Kormákur’s pacing is slightly problematic as he’s too quick to get the expedition on the mountain. Normally, that’s a better approach than a long buildup, but Kormákur essentially is just moving the characters from one checkpoint to the next.
There’s not enough context and purpose for the audience that didn’t read the book. The constant onslaught of new characters also makes them hard to distinguish. That’s further complicated as they’re marching along in bulky snow gear.
As Krakauer asks the group their reason for attempting the summit they all respond with an enthusiastic “Because it’s there!” Nicholson and Beaufoy likewise appear to hope the audience is satisfied with that answer as well.
The problem is that it’s hard to work up much sympathy for characters. The come across as having nothing better to do with their time than blow their money. Not to mention possibly risking their lives for seemingly little more than an adrenaline rush.
It’s not like an accident put them in harm’s way, this was literally their choice. The script doesn’t go deep enough into the characters’ mindset as to why this was such an undeniable challenge.
Across the board, the acting is strong. While the script hasn’t fully conveyed these bonds, the actors do a tremendous job in conveying their characters’ emotions throughout the process. Clarke delivers another earnest performance. Kiera Knightely, who plays Rob’s pregnant wife, and Emily Watson, who plays Rob’s base camp operations manager, also stand out.
From a technical standpoint, Everest soars. Salvatore Totino’s cinematography is outstanding. He puts you right into the treacherous terrain, ice-encrusted hills and a beautiful snowy landscape against a bright blue skyline.
Once the storm hits, Kormákur is able to amp up the intensity and sense of immediacy. Watching the expedition fight a losing battle against the worst case scenario is impressive.
For the less daring adventurers like myself, this will be as close as scaling Everest as we’ll come. It’s definitely a majestic sight. If money isn’t an object, viewing the film in IMAX 3D really is the only worthwhile option. Just don’t go in expecting any emotional connection beyond watching a disaster spectacle.
There’s no doubt a great film to be told about this ill-fated expedition. Everest is too consumed by the storm that it forgets to make you care about those lost in it.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo credit: Jasin Boland/Universal Studios