In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The survival statistics for those that have tried to emulate the magnificent feat since are terrifying. The frightening figures lead us into adventure disaster epic simply titled ‘Everest’, directed by Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur. The film is based on the 1996 expedition when two groups attempted the climb, one led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and the other by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). When both teams face tough terrain on the ascent, they join forces and club together their resources. Can they topple the almighty odds to make it to the top?
Shot in spectacular 3D, this is one of the few times I’d recommend adding an extra dimension to your cinema experience. The camera work here from Salvatore Totino adds great depth to the landscapes which are literally breathtaking. The narrative creates a respected villain out of the mountain itself and doesn’t over dramatise the situations in the way most disaster genre movies would. Without spoiling the plot, character exits are deft and in fact more shocking by the underplayed approach, life slipping away from bodies slowly and quietly. Where the film falls down slightly is the lack of emotioneering behind the back stories of the multitude of characters. We only see and hear about glimpses of their pasts and their reasons for wanting to achieve such a goal, quoting the famous George Mallory’s ‘because it’s there’ line.
There is a huge star-studded cast list but because of the location of the film it can at times be difficult to tell them apart, all dressed up in big coats and covered in snow! The tense atmosphere and drama of Everest itself engulfs the acting but there are a couple of good turns that deserve a mention. The central performance from Jason Clarke is the most memorable, with a multi-layered quality to it given the fact that Hall was a coach to fellow climbers yet was at risk himself. Gyllenhaal plays the care-free adrenaline junkie Fischer with his usual flair and likeability, bringing about welcome light relief when events get rather heavy by whooping hysterically and delivering dialogue such as ‘it’s about the attitude, not the altitude’. From the small selection of those that aren’t up the mountain, Emily Watson gives the most emotionally charged portrayal as Helen, the base camp manager, acting as a go between from the mountaineers and their loved ones.
‘Everest’ is definitely a movie worth taking time out to see on the big screen, as its strong point is the powerful visuals. Kormákur excels in this field and manages to create an aesthetic that is both brutally realistic and larger than life simultaneously. The storytelling is morbid but can be very hard-hitting and successfully dodges the sentimental genre tropes but doesn’t explore the psyches of Hall, Fischer and the rest of the group enough. Because of this lack of development where the core climbers are concerned, more questions are raised than answered.