"Everest" leaves viewers at base camp

Sept. 21, 2015, 2:15 p.m. | By Sandeep David | 6 years, 2 months ago

Breathtaking shots do not compensate for dreary writing

"Everest" recounts the chilling tragedy that took place on the slopes of Mount Everest in 1996. Though it depicts the story of the same event featured in Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air," it is not based on the book as it does not draw from the book and develop characters the way Krakauer saw and depicted them. In a film that starts out at a plodding pace, director Baltasar Kormákur ramps up the intensity at the end to tell the story of the disaster in proper heartbreaking fashion.

Commercial expeditions to the summit of Everest have become increasingly popular in 1996, with not just experts but also with amateurs attempting to climb the famed slopes. In "Everest," Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) runs a successful company, Adventure Consultants, that does exactly that: lead teams of tourists to the summit of Mount Everest. His group on this ill-fated trip consists of Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a journalist documenting the expedition; Guy Cotter (Sam Worthington), another guide; Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a gung-ho and slightly egotistic Texan; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a 47 year old woman who has summited six of the seven tallest peaks in the world; Doug Hansen, a mailman who was forced to turn back on a previous attempt due to weather concerns and a pair of Sherpa guides (Ang Phula Sherpa and Pemba Sherpa).

Before attempting to reach the summit, the climbers must acclimatize themselves to the low levels of oxygen and the low temperatures. Through this, they also become more familiar with each other. However, though the characters share about themselves, the character development is only superficial. The acclimatization process takes up a large chunk of the movie's runtime but was not particularly impactful or memorable. It is filled with incredible shots of Everest's snowcapped slopes but it seems as though whenever the film was getting dry and the dialogue was getting stale, it panned to a shot of the mountain in an attempt to keep viewers engaged.

Hall is really the only developed, three-dimensional character in the film. He is controlling and responsible, exactly what he needs to be to take people to the summit and bring them back down alive. His controlling nature and tendency to guide the group through every little aspect of the climb and to figuratively hold their hands brings him into conflict with Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has the exact opposite philosophy. Fisher's company, Mountain Madness, competes with Adventure Consultants for customers but is more laid-back, preferring to let the climbers be more independent.

What's more, as the team undertook the final challenge - the ascent to the peak of Mount Everest, to the top of the world - the gravity of just what they were undertaking was overlooked. The only indicator of the danger the team is facing comes with the superb soundtrack by Dario Marianelli which alternated between haunting, ominous and triumphant as needed. The importance of oxygen to the amateur climbers was portrayed very inconsistently. The group climbs the slopes easily, taking off the oxygen masks frequently, until the final ascent in which oxygen becomes the most vital element which can be very confusing to viewers. Throughout the climb, no one looked particularly tired when it should have been a very strenuous climb. Moreover, the fact that everyone is bundled up in their bright gear with hats and goggles means that it is difficult to discern who is who in many sequences which makes the ending difficult to understand.

When the situation becomes more tense, the film alternates between showing the reactions of family at home and the climb itself. Hall's wife Jan Arnold (Keira Knightley) and Weathers's wife Peach (Robin Wright) are the focal points of this storyline, which is wrought with clichés and cringe-worthy lines, such as "Go, or I'll cry."

The film stays fairly neutral in its portrayal of the catastrophe. There were no clear villains or heroes, though that may be because of the enormous cast and difficulty in identifying everyone, and it steered clear of playing the blame game.

Overall, the movie is a heart-wrenching one, with incredible shots of the daunting Mount Everest scattered throughout. The views of the mountain are spectacular, but hinder the character development. The dialogue is fairly basic and does not go deep into anyone's motives for putting their life on the line with a family at home waiting for them. This is a question that flies under the radar, with the real takeaway being that Everest always has the last word.

"Everest" is rated PG-13 for intense peril and disturbing images and is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Tags: Keira Knightley Robin Wright Jason Clarke Ang Phula Sherpa Baltasar Kormákur Everest Jake Gyllenhaal Josh Brolin Michael Kelly Naoko Mori Pemba Sherpa Sam Worthington

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