There are a few places man struggle to get to and Everest is one of them. That doesn’t stop the capable or in this case, the wealthy from giving it a good shot though. This recreation of events from a 1996 trek gone horribly wrong tries to cast light on what happened and portray events in a realistic and disquieting way that leaves you in awe and utterly furious with some of the characters too – be they real or close to the real portrayal or not.
Runtime: 121 minutes
Based on a 1996 expedition to Mount Everest, we see a trek party reach the summit and then promptly be caught up in a storm that decimates the party.
The Disasters Faced
The mountain itself, the elements that surround it, the cold and the Death Zone – where you expel oxygen faster than you can recover it. That lack of oxygen causes the mind to do crazy things. I will also say, the stupidity of knowing when enough is enough but I’m sure creative licence was taken for the film to work.
Much of Everest is about the climb up the mountain as opposed to the dramatic and sombre climb back down. Many cast members are introduced as they begin their training and ascent up the mountain. Immediately the film zooms in on a few key people although several others also perish in the disaster – essentially focusing on the Western world aside from the quite astounding Japanese Yasuko climbing her 7th peak. Even the sherpa’s whom live on the mountain are sidelined most of the movie and yet some of their differences actually impact heavily on the story.
Everest has a documentary tone for the opening half of the film and this slowly drifts into a more drama filled performance as the film plays out it’s final act. A lot of the stunning scenery used really added to the sheer scale of what they were facing but what was not thought out so well was the pacing. Whilst the deaths may be confusing in real life, it makes for really confusing cinema when you can’t tell whose life is now coming to an end. The film spends most of its time on two characters. Rob the leader of the climbing team, and Beck the wealthy reporter. When the tone shifts from documentary to emotional drama, it switches to drama for those two characters only, whilst others are essentially left to perish without musical score, warning or sometimes not even on screen. It’s jarring and detracts from the overall experience as a viewer which is a shame as Everest gets so much right.
Whilst there is CGI for the storm used, the effects really stand for the scenery here. Initially they are on Everest themselves before conducting most of the shooting in Italian mountains. As the weather and conditions were so trying, the cold breathe, the shivering, the snow – most of it is real – and it really adds a layer of authenticity to the acting and the screen as well as an appreciation for what it took to make the movie itself.
Why It’s Worth Watching
As an account of events, it’s controversial but full of nuggets of information. I feel like I need to now watch the other account of events that day from the film “In Thin Air” to see what is different. However, as a piece of cinema you are literally screaming at them to turn back because you are seeing so many issues, compromises and mistakes going on. Maybe that’s the hindsight of having a birds-eye view of events but it left me feeling like they should have known better. It’s also a beautiful film to watch. The scenery is beautiful and seeing everyone struggling through it is genuinely a treat. So is the relatively chilling way some of the final moments of people are underplayed and just how brutal the environment is.
The Drinking Game
Every time you think “just go back down!!!”
I struggled to relate to a lot of the climbers. Yasuko seemed the most humble to be there but little screen time is given to her. Instead the emotional thread is carried superbly by Emily Watson whose portrayal of Helen Winton at basecamp is pitch perfect as she moves between barely holding it together and being pushed into despair as news of more fatalities creep in.
One of the issues with the film itself is that several cast members, who also sound slightly similar, are also wearing near identical clothes so there are points in the film where I genuinely had no idea who was who. There’s also some parts where characters are confused from oxygen loss and start arguing about things that if you aren’t paying attention, then turn out to be not true later.
Random Trivia (Spoilers)
Part of the expedition that year was an IMAX team making the documentary Everest that was released in 1998. They found the body of Rob and joined in the search and rescue mission that helped save Beck in the end. Perhaps more shockingly Rob’s widow Jan then climbed Everest herself (they met climbing). There’s a movie in that story I would imagine too.
I did enjoy Everest – honest! I have been critical in the review because it felt like a some really fundamental things that help a viewer understand what’s going on were left out. It makes it quite difficult to invest fully when you are struggling to understand who is on screen. The fact that my attention was held throughout though is testament to how good the other parts of the movie is.