“Everest” (2015) is Quite Thrilling


8.5/10

Everest_poster

There  is a scene in “Everest” (2015) in which magazine journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the several climbers he has accompanied for part of the trip why they are looking to reach the highest peak in the world.

“Because it’s there!” they all answer at the same time, fully aware how humorously unsatisfying answer is.

When pressed for a more satisfactory response, Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) answers that she’s already climbed six of the seven highest summits of each continent and she wants to climb the last.

Namba’s response is of course no more satisfying than the one given by everyone else, but the point of “Everest” is not about trying to make the audience understand why these climbers do what they do.  Nor is the movie simply about telling the story of the infamous 1996 Mount Everest disaster.  The film does much more than that, depicting how insane it is that mere mortals seek the challenge of conquering the highest peak on earth.

Those of us who are not ardent climbers have no idea what it means to be at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters), elevation so high that it’s the altitude at which jet airplanes cruise.  It’s cold, but far bigger issue for human beings is that there is no oxygen.  As Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the expedition leader guiding the climbers to the summit, explains during orientation, human bodies are literally dying at that altitude.

What particularly impresses about the first half of the film is how it smoothly weaves into the narrative the lessons on what makes the trip up Mount Everest so challenging in ways for an audience who knows nothing about climbing can understand.  We learn that the trip to the peak must be under just the right conditions, giving due regard to the weather and the time of day, and that the window of time to get to the summit after the climbers begin the climb in the wee hours of the night is narrow in order for them to be able to head back to base camp before nightfall.

Leading the climb is Rob Hall, the owner of Adventure Consultants who runs a commercial expedition that helps experienced but amateurs climbers reach the top of Everest for a sizable fee of $10,000.  Back home in New Zealand, Rob has a pregnant wife (Keira Knightley), a former climber who understands the dangers of what her husband is doing.  Hall is supported by his team at base camp, including Helen Wilton (Emily Watson) and Dr. Caroline Mackenzie (Elizabeth Debicki).  All three give solid performances despite their minor roles.

Among the climbers in the fateful trip is Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texan who seems to be addicted to the experience of hazardous mountain climbing despite the cost, both to his wallet and his family.  Also on the expedition is Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a school teacher who was given a flag by his young students to plant at the summit.  Doug has tried several times before with Rob to make the summit but couldn’t complete the trip each time. Rob has made special financial accommodation for Doug this time to achieve his elusive goal and both know that this will be Doug’s final attempt.

Also playing a prominent role in the film is the gregarious Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal).  He, too, is a tour guide, but he explains that the difference between Rob and him is that he doesn’t much care for people who don’t have the ability to make the climb.  He understands how life threatening the experience is.

Scott’s words become prophetic, for the climbing of Mount Everest has become a popular tourist destination in 1996.  In addition to the group led by Rob and Scott, there is also a group of South African climbers who are, as their geographic origin would suggest, not the most skilled climbers in freezing conditions.  The presence of less-than-ideal climbers have created a traffic jam of people looking to make the summit, exposing everyone to the dangers arising from the delay.

The latter part of the film tells the gripping disaster that unfolds as climbers are stranded at an attitude so high and where air is so thin that helicopters are unable to make a rescue.

The film is strong throughout, in writing, acting, directing and cinematography.  I do, though, have a complaint about the 3D, which I’ve always felt is an ineffective way of viewing film.  3D may be good at providing a dimension that pops out of the screen, but it’s terrible at providing depth.  That’s why 3D is at its worst in close-ups that are meant to illustrate how far something is or in scenes that show something is approaching from afar.

Jury is still out on whether one day technology will ever overcome the discomfort of the 3D experience, but “Everest” certainly didn’t provide the breakthrough.  “Everest” is a movie that you must see, but make sure you see it in traditional 2D.

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