Everest is the Hooters of September. The visuals are absolutely spectacular (sometimes even breathtaking), but the substance is shallow and void of any depth. I understand this will come across harshly to those of who haven’t seen it, but remember, looking good can only get you so far, especially when you are a feature-length film.
The story centers around the events of May,1996, when eight climbers died on Mount Everest: three on the north face, under conditions very foreign to the outside world, and five others on the south side. One of the best-known accounts of the 1996 disaster is Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. It’s important to note this film is not entirely based on the accounts from Krakauer’s book, but on tapes and eyewitness accounts of that day as well. Krakauer emerges in this story as merely a supporting character, played by Michael Kelly.
In a decision that will be forever questioned, screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy focus the narrative through the eyes of Rob Hall (Jason Clarke). Hall is the expedition leader and owner of a company, Adventure Consultants, who was one of the first expedition outfits to turn climbing Everest into a financial gold mine. For $65,000 dollars you too can have the experience of lifetime as you push yourself up inhuman heights in pursuit of glory.
On this expedition we have a Texan in a Dole/Kemp t-shirt named Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Seattle mail carrier Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), John Krakauer (Micheal Kelly), and from Japan, Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who’s already claimed six of seven Everest summits. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the role of another climbing company leader, Scott Fischer of Mountain Madness. This is an odd choice, taking the best actor in the film and relegating him to a supporting role. Gyllenhaal would have been more suited for the role of Rob Hall than Jason Clarke. Rob Hall is the focal point of a film that is focused on a hellacious event that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It requires an actor with the appropriate range to express the hell that they are experiencing up on that mountain. To be blunt, Jason Clarke doesn’t have the chops to pull of that type of performance. What we get from Clarke is a bouillabaisse of melodramatic nonsense.
While hiking up Everest, the group is consistently receiving weather alerts from expedition coordinator Wilton (Emily Watson). Once the group gets to 26,000 feet they enter a “death zone,” conditions best described as “hell on earth.” And that’s on a good day. A freak storm suddenly enters the area and we are kindly reminded once again Everest’s ability to kill. As Krakauer stated “It’s the mountain that has the last word… always.”
Everest has some of the best cinematography that I’ve ever seen in a film – period. Shot in the Italian Alps, the use of Imax cameras truly leave the audience gasping for air as we accompany the characters on their journey. Dario Marianelli, who composed the score, did a wonderful job of accompanying the seminal moments in Everest with the appropriate tones from upbeat to somber and mournful.
My biggest issue with Everest is the lack of characterization in this film. We don’t learn nearly enough about the members of this expedition to develop any sort of attachment. We know who they are, but we certainly don’t what they are. At one point, I thought we were headed in the right direction when it’s revealed that Hall’s wife (Kiera Knightly) is pregnant and that Weather’s spouse (Robin Wright) is at home. Even when they attempt to develop empathy through the story line involving Hall’s wife, they were so blunt and matter of fact about the whole thing it was as if it didn’t truly matter to either of them. Umm … you’re trapped on a mountain… your wife is pregnant with your child… don’t you think we should just explore that treasure trove of emotional weight a bit? I feel weird saying this, but it felt as if the mountaineers were barely acknowledged during the course of this picture. A film about climbing Everest and the climbers are barely mentioned. Sounds like a great idea to me.
It’s practically impossible to have a movie based on one of the worst disasters in the history of Everest anchored by thinly developed characters. Between the lack of characterization and the catastrophic casting mistake, Everest turns from being a great film to just being an ordinary film.