18 September 2015 | CleveMan66
Like climbing the famed mountain, watching "Everest" is a harrowing, but rewarding experience.
"I want to see Everest". Could you be a bit more specific? Assuming that you're not talking about making a trip to Nepal, there are still many ways to interpret your request besides seeing the 2015 docudrama. The world's tallest mountain is the center of the story in a 1998 documentary, a 2007 TV mini-series, a 2014-2015 TV series and another film project still in development. All of these treatments are simply titled, "Everest". More to the point, 2015's "Everest" (PG-13, 2:01) re-tells the specific story from the '98 doc and a 1997 TV movie ("Into Thin Air: Death on Everest"), but tells it more vividly than ever before.
The '97, '98 and 2015 films all take us along for doomed expeditions up the tallest peak in the Himalayas in May 1996, as told in at least five books by survivors, most famously in journalist Jon Krakauer's 1997 best-seller "Into Thin Air", which is the primary basis for the screenplay of 2015's "Everest". As the film tells us early on, by the late 1980s, climbing Everest had transitioned from the domain of adventurers like George Mallory and Edmund Hillary with minimal equipment to a tourist destination for thrill-seekers with little climbing experience, but enough money to buy state-of-the-art equipment, stay in established base camps, and hire local Sherpas as guides and, in some cases, to carry the climber's gear and cook meals. But as the films about the 1996 climbs (and subsequent major avalanches) have shown, no amount of money, gear, help or even experience can insulate anyone from the dangers inherent in this climb. "The last word," as one character in the 2015 film says, "always belongs to the mountain." "Everest" follows two of the expeditions which suffered tragic losses on the mountain on May 10-11, 1996. Rival expedition leaders Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), of the company Adventure Consultants, and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), of Mountain Madness, decide to work together due to the large number of people trying to reach the peak on May 10th. The main focus of the story is Hall's team, which includes people with a wide range of personal backgrounds. Hall is an experienced New Zealand mountaineer who has already climbed to the top of Everest four times, including once with his wife, Jan (Keira Knightley), who has stayed in New Zealand this time due to her pregnancy. Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) is a mailman who attempted Everest once before and wants to reach the summit as a way of inspiring schoolchildren back home in Washington state. Yasuko Namba is a 47-year-old Japanese woman who has already climbed the other six of the famed Seven Summits and wants to become the oldest woman to reach the top of Everest. Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) is an adventurous Texan who is also pursuing the goal of the Seven Summits, but has lied to his wife, Peach (Robin Wright), about his current trip to Everest. Jon Krakauer is a writer for "Outside" magazine, but has never been on a climb above 8000m. Several of the people portrayed in this film died on Everest and others barely escaped with their lives.
"Everest" is much more than a high-altitude adventure movie or disaster flick. Besides learning about the personal backgrounds of the characters, we follow them on their entire adventure, from beginning to end, learning a good bit about mountain climbing along the way. One of the first things we learn is that, to these people, summit is a verb. Hall lays out the dangers of summiting Everest in his briefing to his team before they even set foot on the mountain. "Human beings are not designed to function at the cruising altitude of a 747. Your bodies will be literally dying," he says. This group understands all that, but they've put their trust in the honest, personable and level-headed Hall. And they've paid him a lot of money ($65,000 each) to get them to the top of Everest – and safely back down. At base camp, Hall and his friend and colleague, Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), and their fellow Adventure Consultants employees, teach, coach and take care of their customers, including Hall taking them on some practice climbs. In spite of the danger and discomfort that everyone experiences even going only partially up the mountain, they're all looking forward to the real thing. They know they'll be cold, exhausted and scared, while having trouble breathing and facing the unpredictability of the mountain, but they didn't come this far to quit. Their experiences turn out much worse than anything any of them could have imagined.
"Everest" is a fascinating and gripping adventure. Like other movies about mountain climbing, this one fails to give a satisfactory reason for why these people risk their lives for little more than a great view and bragging rights, but it's clear that there are a variety of justifications within the group. The script depicts this climb as an extremely risky venture, but allows us to marvel at the courage, determination and, in some cases, self-sacrifice of these people. The character development (thanks to a great script and a terrific cast) is outstanding and the cinematography is as impressive as you'd expect (especially in IMAX 3-D). The suffering of the climbers (even when things are going according to plan), the thrilling moments (when circumstances throw the plan into chaos), the heartbreak and the small victories along the way all make us feel like we're right there on that mountain. The hardships and the tragedies of this expedition are sometimes shot and edited oddly, but are never exploitive. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur brings us an engaging, eye-opening and beautiful film that most are likely to appreciate. "A-"