I’ve always begrudgingly respected movies about people dying in famous disasters. I say “begrudgingly” because the respect is almost exclusively for the technical aspects. Of course, the wonders of cinema have allowed famous events like the Titanic disaster to be possible to be translated to film (by the way, I’m sure the closest we’ll get to an R101 Airship Disaster film is Iron Maiden’s 18 minute epic song “Empire of the Clouds” released this year), and I can’t help but be really happy for the hard working crew who put all that effort into making a realistic looking tsunami strike the screen. Additionally, all the stuntwork and intense performances put forth by the cast certainly contribute. I wish that wasn’t where it ends. The reason it ends there is because more often than not, these films exist almost exclusively to emotionally manipulate the viewer. The titular disaster will more often than not take up only 20 minutes of the film, then we’ll get some 40 minutes of “you should feel bad” bullshit, and what one of these films is complete without a “pictures of the real people in hopes that we’ll jerk some tears out of the audience” set of end credits.
Warning: Spoilers lie ahead
Everest, in all aspects, should have been a complete subversion of that. The 1996 Mount Everest expedition disaster is one of the most terrifying true stories, and the book Into Thin Air does not shy away from this- a book that describes firsthand the complete and utter chaos that was the storm that hit Mount Everest, and it is indeed fucking terrifying. It’s such a frustrating thing that a fictionalized depiction of such a disaster can’t be as terrifying as reading an account of the disaster- even in the grandeur of IMAX. And one of these reasons is that it blames the bad weather and some little oopsies along the way that just so happened to hit for this tragedy. It’s a shame that it just narrowed the reason for the disaster down to the weather, because that in itself dulls any emotional impact the film could have had. And even in spite of that, Everest ends up being insultingly emotionally manipulative- a big no-no for a film that tries to get you to care for a bunch of fictionalized versions of real life characters.
Everest‘s first hour is mostly devoted to giving us the specifics, with some moments of training montages here and there. And some of these bits are genuinely entertaining. The ice falls training bits are easily the best parts of the pre-climb scenes, however, they’re few and in between. One part of this portion that sustains throughout the whole movie and tries to make you care is the romance between two characters and their wives- namely, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), who hasn’t even told his wife he’s climbing Mount Everest, and Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), whose wife (Keira Knightley) is pregnant at home. This wouldn’t be such a crime for a film with not that many characters, but we have so many characters who are completely fucking wasted- the most criminal of which is Scott Fischer (Jake Gylenhaal), who is easily the most interesting character in the film, and he gets all of maybe ten minutes of sccreen time. Yet we’re supposed to care for him when the shit hits the fan. Yeah. And then there’s 47-year-old Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who apparently had reached 6 of 7 summits. Why not tell the story through her eyes? She was one of the most interesting climbers. She, too, gets like maybe 5 minutes of screen time.
The second half is devoted to hitting the summit of the titular mountain, and then the storm stuff comes. Admittedly, the scenes that involve the summit are breathtakingly shot, and even look as if the actors are on the mountain. And then after that, it’s all about the storm scenes, and you’d think for a film that bills itself largely as Gravity on earth, that these scenes would have some sort of a sense of urgency. Except they don’t; the most suspenseful moments are the ones leading up to the storm, like the scenes of Helen Wilton (Emily Watson) reporting to Rob Hall from the communication tent about the stormy conditions. The actual storm scenes themselves are so fucking dull. It doesn’t need to have explosions going off every five seconds, but they’re so poorly executed that there’s very seldom a sense of danger. I get that being caught in a severe snowstorm wouldn’t exactly be the most exciting thing on earth (I live in Edmonton, trust me, I’d know), but the storm bits are so poorly executed and rarely make you feel scared for the characters. Add to that the insulting need to include pictures of the real people so some mouth breathing moron in the audience can point at the screen and say “hey look, it’s the real person”.
It’s a shame, because in all its technical aspects, Everest is a stunner. It’s beautifully shot and crafted by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur- in fact, very early on, we are treated to a nunber of shots in the movie that could very well be paintings. In IMAX 3D, especially, the film looks stunning- the few sweeping shots we get of Everest are fantastic, and even a few moments in the film where Beck Weathers partially loses his vision thanks in no small part to the ultra-high altitudes of the mountain are absolutely convincing thanks to the deft direction. Another frustrating part is that we get a cast full of seriously talented actors who do basically no acting. And I don’t blame this entirely on them, as they weren’t given much to work with in the first place. But not a single performance in the movie is memorable at all. Any other actors could have played these roles. Kiera Knightley had a few moments of convincingness, but this isn’t stuff she hasn’t done in The Imitation Game.
But easily the worst crime Everest commits is that it’s flat-out BORING. There’s no reason to care for the characters, there’s next to no suspense, the whole thing could have been about a half hour shorter with no loss, and the whole thing exists to cash in on the Gravity-lite Oscar Bait flick. If only the film had been anywhere near as exciting as Gravity.
Everest is a film that is frustratingly boring and shockingly without a true “takeoff” moment. It does not do justice to the people who died in the disaster and will end up boring most audiences and pissing off those looking for technical detail.