I’m a big fan of films about the extremes of nature and the elements. They contain terrifying, scary, unpredictable factors that claim many lives, which is why the notion of climbing a mountain and putting yourself into harms way is a thrill I will never personally experience through choice. It is one less way to die and an easy one to avoid. But it is this fear of the unknown that motivates me to watch these types of movies; they leave me with my jaw firmly on the ground, speechless, unable to comprehend what it would have been like to witness it at best.
Everest, compiled of many first-hand accounts, shows how Rob played by Jason Clarke, takes a bunch of amateur climbers (Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Naoko Mori) to the top of Everest on a 1996 expedition. Rob leads the ‘Adventure Consultants’, who have capitalised on the public thirst for the dangerous task of climbing Earths tallest mountain, as the technology and our ability to withstand natural elements that should kill us has evolved. Along his way, he bumps into familiar faces and other packs of climbers (Jack Gyllenhaal), but the route to the top of Everest is so precise, and the room for error so marginal, that as evidenced by the increasingly loud music and worried faces, something is bound to go wrong.
As the climbers met other climbers, and the group moulded into bigger groups, my interest became more diluted as so many characters were introduced. The end result was a beardy slog up a mountain, inaudible shouting through walkie-talkies and teary eyed close-ups of those not on the mountain.
Visually, perhaps I was limited by not seeing this in the IMAX 3D but instead at the Hackney Picturehouse. IMAX usually adds or subtracts a few points either side of your ratings depending on whether it built up an average film to be epic, or drove home how bad a bad film was a million times over with the added bonus of the sour taste left by the £20 ticket price. Nevertheless, the weather, the mountain and the visual deterioration of our climbers was achieved with excellent authenticity, and is the movies only real saving grace.
Visuals alone cannot save a movie though, and even in this instance you could go as far to say it was a missed opportunity. The danger element was always going to be there, but when you know what is going to happen, the thrill is minimal. The dread and sense of danger needed to be conveyed differently. The sheer scale and size of Everest is the reason why it terrifies people, but the camera work was left for the panicked close-ups or a group of out of breath people never giving up, wading through snow, whispering and/or shouting at each other. The one time the camera panned above Everest, and showed the vertical drop waiting for the climbers should they miss a step, gave me chills. There was simply not enough of that.
When I went into this movie I expected to be blown away. Instead it felt like it breathed lightly on the back of my neck like that person who stands too close to you in a queue. Films about mountains or mountaineers should feel dangerous, even if you know the outcome. Look at 127 Hours, Touching the Void or the excellent North Face – all remarkably successful without the need for 3D or an ensemble cast of characters each with a slightly vague backstory.
Everest lacked focus, and therefore lost mine. A real shame, given the incredible environment and unbelievable true stories of which Baltasar Kormákur had to work from.