Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Premise: Based on true events. An expedition to climb to the peak of Mount Everest is devastated by a severe storm.
What Works: Everest is a movie about people pitting themselves against a great physical challenge and the movie works as an immediate cinematic experience. The filmmakers do an excellent job of coming up with visuals and sequences that capture the difficulty of the journey and the harshness of the terrain. This is especially true in the second half of the picture. The mountaineers climb to Everest’s peak but after the crew achieves their goal they are caught up in a snowstorm. The filmmakers create a vivid impression of the wind, snow, and ice and viewers will feel the visceral impact of the weather. The movie’s authentic sense of place extends to its portrayal of the mountain climbing subculture. The journey up Mount Everest passes through several camps and the film places the audience in the culture of the climbers and the economy that has formed alongside the mountain. As a technical exercise, Everest is exceptional. The moviemaking was undoubtedly assisted by computer technology but at no point do the visuals have a digital look. Everything about the film feels organic which makes the acrophobic thrills of the movie effective. As a man-against-nature picture, one of the admirable qualities of Everest is that the filmmakers find both beauty and mercilessness in nature; the imagery of the mountain and the surrounding countryside is frequently beautiful but it’s also dangerous and both of those qualities exist simultaneously. In that respect, another of the admirable qualities of Everest is the way the filmmakers avoid sentimentality. A movie like this lends itself to Hollywood dramatics in which a character makes a grand motivational speech and triumphantly conquers nature to an overblown music score. In Everest the action unfolds much more plainly; the film has some of the qualities of Irwin Allen disaster movies like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure but it also has the quieter and edgier elements found in movies like Open Water and The Grey. The film is a testament to human endurance but also to the limits of our bodies.
What Doesn’t: Everest has a lot of A-list actors in its cast, with some of them in roles that amount to little more than cameos. The amount of familiar faces is distracting. Their presence creates the expectation that these characters will figure into the story more significantly than they do. The casting of recognizable movie stars also dilutes the impact of the movie. Everest is generally filmed in a naturalistic way and the presence of Hollywood actors is incongruous with that style. The film would have benefited from a lesser known cast who would have matched the tone of the movie. The preponderance of recognizable faces in Everest compounds a related problem. The movie has too many characters but not enough characterization. There is a key scene early on in which the climbers gather together and are asked why they want to summit Mount Everest. Each of them gives a thumbnail explanation but it’s all very generic. The characters have little that defines them and so there is little emotional investment or narrative meaning attached to whether they survive. As a result, Everest leaves the viewer wondering what the point was of telling this story. The film works as an immediate experience but no more than that.
Bottom Line: Everest impresses as a piece of filmmaking craft. This is the kind of movie to be seen in a theater with as big a screen and as good a sound system as possible. Everest is narratively and thematically thin and it may not be as engaging when it is viewed on home video.
Episode: #563 (October 11, 2015)