EVEREST (7 out of 10) Directed by Baltasar Kormakur; Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy; Starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley and Emily Watson; Rated PG-13 for intense peril and disturbing images; Running time 121 minutes; In IMAX release September 18, 2015 and wide release September 25, 2015.
Everest, the tallest mountain in the world is also one of the most dangerous to climb. It’s said that one out of every four people who attempt to summit it lose their lives from a myriad of maladies – hypothermia, lack of oxygen, falling and avalanches, to name a few. It was due to this level of danger that adventuring companies formed and started to offer “safe” and well-planned routes to the summit to anyone who had the money, if not experience, to make the trip. At first, these expeditions went off without a hitch until May of 1996 when a combination of too many climbers and a sudden storm caused the worst loss of life ever encountered at one time. “Everest” chronicles the months leading up to the fateful final two days that went so horribly wrong.
The “Adventure Consultants” led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) are somewhat surprised to discover that “Mountain Madness” led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) will be attempting to lead a group of climbers to the summit of Everest at the same time they are. Worse, other groups are also arriving at Base Camp, and the thought of so many people getting bottlenecked on the mountain unnerves Hall. Previous expeditions have gone off without a hitch, and he has promised all of his climbers that he will do whatever it takes to get them back to Base Camp safely. Hall partners with Fischer, and the two decide to work and summit together for the safety of all involved. Time passes as the climbers acclimate to the temperature and lack of oxygen at the higher altitude, and as the deadline for the ascent, May 10, arrives, Hall and Fischer decide to begin the last leg of the journey. Beginning at midnight, the climb goes well until, as predicted, the groups bottleneck while waiting for climbing ropes to be safely secured. Due to delays, they run out of oxygen and many turn back while a few barely make it to the peak of the mountain. As they begin the descent, weakened and out of oxygen, they are hit by a raging blizzard that divides the team and leads to the deaths of many of the experienced climbers and lifelong physical and mental scars for the ones lucky enough to survive.
This is definitely a film to be seen in IMAX 3D as the incredible views and vistas leap out from a screen that big. Soaring camera angles and flyby shots makes it seem like the audience is really hovering over the majestic mountain and will likely cause most to grip their seats in fear or perhaps be overwhelmed by vertigo.
The sound mixing is absolutely incredible as well. Whether from the distant moaning of the ice crevasses as they stretch and collapse to the howling and angry wind whipping through parkas and tents, the sensation of being on the mountain along with the characters is palpable. While certainly due to imagination, whenever the climbers were being buffeted by wind and snow or cowering in the relative relief of a pup tent from the blizzard outside, the theater felt like it got colder. Rarely has the cinematography and sound of a film had such a visceral impact on the audience as it does here, and it ups the tension and horror of the events to near unimaginable levels.
Unfortunately, all of this happens in the second half, which means that everyone has to put up with a muddled beginning that relies too much on the interactions between the adventuring companies. Not that Clarke or Gyllenhaal do a bad job. Far from it. In fact, everyone in the cast, which includes Josh Brolin, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley and Emily Watson, to name a few, perform admirably and fully flesh out and breathe life into their roles. The problem is that the unending conversation and attempt to make each person into unique snowflakes so we care about them when they face certain death bogs down the whole proceedings. Too much time is wasted instructing everyone on the dangers of the mountain. We know this already so quit lollygagging about and get to it! Had a smart editor come along and snipped out about 20 minutes of extraneous dialogue, the movie would have been much better for it and allowed the mood of danger and terror to more evenly permeate the story.
At its heart, “Everest” is really a disaster movie, but instead of aliens, fire or earthquakes, the dangers are the deadly altitude, the roaring wind and snow and the mountain itself that aims to destroy all who dare approach its peaks. When it decides to focus on spectacle is when it truly shines, but that is tarnished by having to slog through the first half to get there. But once the ascent begins, audiences will be treated to one of the most horrifying movie experiences they’ve ever encountered.