Cinematic Releases: Everest

Everest finally hits a wide release today. Find out what we thought.

"Look over there! A spaceship below the ice
with an alien in it that
we're gonna thaw
out and its going to kill us all
except for Kurt Russell."
In May 1996, eight mountain climbers from around the world attempting to scale the summit of Mount Everest lost their lives after getting caught in a blizzard and freezing to death.  It became one of the most publicized fatal natural disasters in living memory, spawning a still controversial debate over profiteering on the commercializing of the deadly location.  While the unthinkable was occurring on one side of the mountain, an IMAX crew with their own sets of 70mm cameras were busily making a film about Mount Everest before the tragedy inevitably crept its way into the finished documentary in 1998. 

Journalist and fellow climber Jon Krakauer published his own written account of the ordeal entitled Into Thin Air.  After the Mountain accumulated as many as 200 fatalities with their frozen bodies still locked in the ice and rock, now here is Everest, an IMAX 3D dramatization of the fateful May 1996 tragedy.  Using a combination of natural locations and CGI enhancement, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur has more or less successfully reenacted the events that claimed the lives of those who dared to dream the impossible.  The question is, do you want to pay $15 apiece to watch nearly everybody onscreen slowly perish to hypothermia and frostbite?

At first as a movie, Everest takes the impersonal Perfect Storm approach to the disaster with a minor character development and greater emphasis on the ensemble seen from afar.  Considering the strength of the cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright and Keira Knightley, it’s a little disappointing to see their talent underutilized despite the physicality of traversing the daunting terrain.  Since we’re well aware these were real people, many of whom would not survive this ordeal, I was hoping the film would allow me to know them more than just another broadly drawn archetype.  There are even a couple moments of editing that felt disjointed as the film leaps from character to character with some people I don’t even recall receiving a proper introduction.  

"No wait. Look over there instead.
In that direction, there's far better
 movies about people dying in bad
snowy accidents."
That said, learning more about these characters is secondary to the film’s real aim which is to show Mount Everest as a brutally unforgiving graveyard that’s far more Hell than Heaven and begs the question whether or not it’s worth all the grief and heartache.  Released exclusively in IMAX 3D before the impending general release (though 2D will leave viewers feeling just as depressed), Everest is determined to convey what it must have felt like to be pummeled by avalanches, depleting oxygen, punishing snowstorms finally to die a slow death in below zero temperatures.  The sights of suffocating white outs and piercing sounds of wind and bristling snow blasting against tents and snowsuits undoubtedly make Everest one of the most difficult films to sit through ever released in IMAX 3D as the frozen bodies pile up before being obscured in snow and ice.  

After seeing the stories on the local news regarding the 1996 tragedy, having seen actual photos of the frozen bodies and now this film I am still just as perplexed by the impetus behind scaling Mount Everest as I was then.  It’s such an obvious human meat grinder unfit for life yet people continue to march towards their deaths like lemmings waiting to descend the edge of the cliff.  If you’re like me and feel only insanity or a death wish could account for so many people laying their lives on the line for such a risky endeavor, Everest will do nothing to change that perception.  For those who scaled the summit and lived to tell about it, I’m sure it was a life changing experience for them.  But as Everest shows in its ongoing exposure of multiple human tragedies, it probably isn’t worth the hardship and grief for those left behind.  Even while we’re contemplating all this over the course of the movie, those bodies are still up there on Mount Everest.


-Andrew Kotwicki

Like this review. Please share.
StumbleUpon Reddit Pinterest Facebook Twitter Addthis