Everest (Baltasar Kormákur, 2015)
Back in 1996, an IMAX crew filmed sequences on and around Mt. Everest for a 44-minute documentary, released in 1998 – entitled Everest – that profiled a successful climbing expedition to the top (and back) of the world’s highest peak. You may have seen that film at the time, as it traveled far and wide to most science museums and IMAX theaters. This is not that movie (though it was also filmed with IMAX cameras). True, they share the same main subject and title, but only one of them gets the human story right. This is also not that movie.
Filmed in 3D (because IMAX is not enough), 2015’s Everest – from Icelandic action director Baltasar Kormákur (2 Guns) – does do some things very well. Based on the ill-fated expedition about which Jon Krakauer wrote in his nonfiction bestseller Into Thin Air, the new movie dramatizes, in harrowing detail, the brutal conditions on the mountain. The wide vistas and three-dimensional depth of the frame serve this part of the story perfectly. We feel the cold blasts of wind in a particularly visceral way, and marvel that anyone would attempt the ascent. The film also presents a compelling case for the dangers of commercializing extreme sports: according to its narrative, people died, at least in part, because excess competition to make it to the peak during optimal weather led experienced guides to make poor decisions. Again, the screen format is the ideal choice for this topic, since a crowded IMAX frame feels very full, indeed.
Unfortunately, the elements with which we do not engage, dramatically, are the people. There is a very large ensemble cast – including Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper on “House of Cards“) and Keira Knightley (Begin Again), among others – and none of them are allowed enough screen time to anchor the story. Yes, people die, and death is tragic, but at the end of this particular movie, I was left wondering why I should care that much about the fate of (mostly) wealthy people who chose to voluntarily climb Everest because of the very dangers (for the adrenaline rush that comes with risking one’s life) that led some of them to die. No, I’m not a cold fish (though I felt chilled to the bone watching the film), but I am someone who demands three-dimensional, interesting people about whom to care. Shooting in 3D is not the same was writing in 3D.
By no means is Everest a total loss. The cinematography is stunning, and the movie thrills in many parts. It’s just not particularly memorable beyond that.