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Everest (2015)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not Exactly A Peak Moviegoing Experience"
3 stars

There are plenty of risky and potentially dangerous activities that other people freely indulge in that I would never dream of taking part in--home renovation, deep-frying turkeys, quixotic presidential campaigns--but I can at least understand the ultimate goals of those who take part. Mountain climbing, on the other hand, is one whose appeal continues to elude me. Personally, I have always found it to be one of the stupidest ways that mankind has ever devised to quite possibly perish in an exceptionally painful, unpleasant and easily avoided manner--you run the risk of dying of the cold, lack of oxygen and embarrassment over wearing one of those stupid North Face jackets and that is if everything somehow goes according to plan. Sure, you get a nice view for a few minutes as compensation for the occasional loss of a toe but unless you are planning on really impressing the crowd at your next "Big Lebowski" convention, my guess is that most people would prefer to keep all of their digits. Put it this way--there have been any number of mountain climbing-related movies released over the years but has there ever been one where most sane viewers have walked away thinking "Man, I really want to do that someday"?

I certainly cannot imagine any sane person coming out of "Everest" and immediately heading over to the nearest sporting goods store to get themselves suited up. In recreating an ultimately doomed expedition to the peak of the tallest mountain on Earth, it is a suitably grisly depiction of how all of the training and expertise that one can acquire in regards to scaling the seemingly unscalable can be all for naught in the face of the indifferent brutality of Mother Nature. What it doesn't do, however, is get far enough into the characters to understand why they would want to subject themselves to such an ordeal in the first place despite the enormous life-threatening risks. Without that, the film is little more than a standard-issue disaster movie--albeit one where the potential victims have gone out of their way to put themselves in harm's way--in which a bunch of thinly drawn characters are put through their increasingly uncomfortable paces in a story that still feels slightly contrived and cliched despite its factual basis.

In the early Nineties, a cottage industry developed around companies that would, for a hefty fee, lead expeditions to help people reach the top of Everest, an achievement that few had managed to accomplish before that point. One of the top men in this particular field was New Zealand climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), whose Adventure Consultants company had led a number of carefully planned and executed climbs over the next few years. As the film opens in April, 1996, he leaves behind his pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightley), to go off to Kathmandu to prepare eight clients for their journey, including brash Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who has already conquered six of the seven tallest mountains and is hoping to finish the cycle, Seattle mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), who fell short of making it by a few hundred feet the previous year and journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), who is working on a magazine piece that could help bring in more business. Of course, considering the number of competing groups that are also at base camp preparing their own ascents, including one lead by rival climber Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), more people who may not know exactly what they are getting into is probably the last thing that Hall and the mountain need but never mind.

Over the next few weeks, Hall helps his group acclimate to the punishing circumstances of Everest--low visibility, ladder bridges spanning unimaginably deep gorges, hypothermia, hallucinations and ever-dwindling oxygen supplies among them--and convinces Fischer that their groups should merge together in an attempt to make things slightly safer. Finally, on May 10, the combined group sets off to climb the south face to the peak and while things go wrong for a few of the climbers--Doug struggles, Beck is forced to stop after going snow blind and guide ropes and fresh oxygen tanks are not where they are supposed to be--most of the others do manage to make it. Alas, just as they are beginning the descent, a massive storm hits and wreaks havoc on them. While Hall's colleague (Emily Watson) tries to keep track of the climbers and the increasingly powerful storm and Jan frets at home, the climbers try to get to safety but are soon overwhelmed and five of them wind up dead. (Three other Indian climbers perished on the north side of the mountain at the same time but the film makes no mention of them.)

This disastrous expedition wound up inspiring a number of published accounts as to what happened up there--Krakauer wrote his best-seller "Into Thin Air" and there were also books by Weathers and Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian mountaineer from one of the other groups. Instead of basing the film on one of those accounts, screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy (no strangers to screen adaptations of true-life struggles--the former was one of the hands on "Unbroken" and the latter chronicled another adventure gone hideously wrong in "127 Hours") seems to have taken elements from several of them to stitch together their narrative. In theory, this makes some degree of sense in that it stresses both the perspective of the climbers as a group over any one individual as well as the dominance of Mother Nature over all of their plans and precautions. The trouble, however, is that by bouncing back and forth between the different stories, it makes it harder develop any specific sympathies towards any of them because just as we are beginning to get interested in them, the film moves on to someone else. (I would have loved to have heard more about Namba, the Japanese climber, but she almost comes across as an afterthought at times). When tragedy hits, it doesn't quite muster up the impact that it really should have. In addition, the film starts off looking as it is going to criticize the commercialized nature of the mountaineering experience but then shies away from that potentially interesting topic.

The bigger problem with the film is that while it goes into agonizing detail in showing the climbers dying slowly before our eyes for the most seemingly irrational of reasons, it never gives us any insight as to what drove them to that point in the first place. There is a scene in which Krakauer asks the climbers that very question and they pretty much all dodge it. The trouble is that the film does the same thing and for people like myself who find the very notion of mountain climbing to be insane, the lack of any insight is a distraction. I suppose that this is probably better than having every character give a noble speech or two but there has to be some kind of happy medium that director Baltasar Kormakur never quite manages to hit. You can't even say that the physical beauty of the peak of Everest (replicated here by Nepal and the Italian Alps) is the thing that makes it all worthwhile because while the film is impressively lensed by Salvatore Totino, even the money shots lack the kind of irresistible beauty that could have made the case.

On the grand scale of replications of real-life disasters--with "Titanic" at the top end of the scale and "Pearl Harbor" at the other--"Everest" falls somewhere in the middle. It is well-made from a production standpoint, the actors all do good work despite the thinly developed characters they are playing and if you manage to see it in the 3-D IMAX process, the long gazes into seemingly bottomless chasms will be more than enough to make you question the wisdom of your visit to the concession stand. If that is all you are looking for, then "Everest" should prove to be satisfactory. If you are looking for something a little more substantial than disaster porn, you may find that it comes up a bit short. If you come out of the film with a bizarre urge to explore a barren and inhospitable terrain with frigid temperatures, no way of sustaining a decent life for an extended period of time and where survivors of its brutal extremes may find themselves envying the dead after emerging from its overwhelming horrors, may I suggest that you skip Everest altogether and merely spend a weekend in Wisconsin instead?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26601&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/17/15 14:50:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Venice Film Festival For more in the 2015 Venice Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/19/19 Joesmaltz Being from Northern Minnesota, I thought they needed a technological advisor. 3 stars
10/16/17 Louise It was OK but I preferred 'Vertical Limit'. 3 stars
10/13/16 Bobby Worth a watch for sure. I actually enjoyed Into Thin Air (TV mov) slightly more curiously. 4 stars
1/04/16 Langano Hey Bridget, why don't you try watching the movie before you post useless comments. 3 stars
10/14/15 BRIDGET FLYNN The look seemed interesting, maybe worth a shot for me. 4 stars
10/02/15 orpy Meh. 3 stars
10/01/15 Monday Morning Any sport that has "death zone" in it's description is off my bucket list forever 3 stars
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  18-Sep-2015 (PG-13)
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