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Everest - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

It's easy to have mixed feelings about Everest, in large part because of the bizarre decision to release it exclusively in 3D. I've made no secret of my usual contempt for the use of 3D, which with a few notable exceptions (Hugo, Life of Pi, Gravity) is usually a racket, a way to jack up ticket prices with a visual gimmick that is more distracting than in any way an enhancement of the story. The films where 3D really works are usually made by long-established directors easy to trust they know what they're doing. And who the hell is Baltasar Kormákur? Well, he directed . . . uh, 2 Guns.

But this is the weird thing: Everest actually does employ 3D well. It is rarely distracting, and the many spectacular wide shots of the Himalayas, emphasizing the vast disparity between the magnitude of the mountain and the helpless smallness of the hikers, is suitably harrowing because of it. But this is also the first time I've seen 3D used to emphasize the horror of a true story -- audiences generally go to 3D movies for the thrill, rather than to see hikers giving up hope and literally slipping off cliffs with enhanced realism.

Everest is based on the true story of what was then the deadliest disaster in Everest history, with eight people dying on their way back down from summiting Mount Everest. (Ironically, what is now the deadliest disaster there occurred during the filming of this movie, when an avalanche killing 16 people postponed production.) The trailer is slightly misleading, suggesting it was also an avalanche that characterized the disaster, but in the end it was really nothing more than what every hiker on the mountain faces any time they climb: unpredictable weather conditions, and bad luck in weighing risks and benefits in mountaineering decisions.

The story is told in such a way that is very affecting, evocative, tense, and suspenseful. The suspense isn't quite the same as in many other movies because, being a true story, many of the main characters you would normally expect to make it actually perish. There are calls to wives back home that turn Everest into a serious tear jerker of a movie. And this is one of the areas where the ensemble cast's massive star power comes in unexpected places -- two such wives, who do little more in the movie than sit on the phone and worry, are played by Kiera Knightley and Robin Wright.

Most of the climbers are men, of course -- all but one, in fact: Yasuko Namba (played by Naoko Mori), a woman who had climbed six of the seven summits on each continent, and was attempting to become the oldest woman to reach the summit of Everest (which she did, although the record has since been broken). She went up with Adventure Consultants, the group of which are rounded out by Jason Clarke as expedition guide John Hall; and other climbers played by John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, and House of Cards's Michael Kelly, among others. Another expedition went up at the same time, led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal); back at base camp we see the likes of Emily Watson and Sam Worthington keeping communications open, or attempting to, with the climbers.

There's a whole lot of people in this movie, none of them chosen as a single main character, although John Hall would come the closest. One of his memorable lines is telling a couple of climbers that they pay him to get them back down safely -- "Remember that" -- and that that is more important than reaching the summit. Several people reach the summit; some don't; John makes a bad decision when he decides to help someone on his third attempt with no chance for trying again to make it, even though everyone else is by then on their way back down.

There are quick-forming storms. Spectacular shots of darkened clouds rolling up huge mountain slopes toward them. Sudden calms in the weather, providing windows for movement, sometimes in the middle of the night. People get sick just from the altitude. Some freeze to death. There are many dead bodies on Everest, there for varying amounts of time; a presumably fresher corpse is in the foreground of one shot as hikers climb past it.

I'm not sure how much sympathy these people need. One guide tells another that he "hand-holds" too much, and notes that if you can't make it up the mountain on your own you shouldn't be there at all. Why are any of these people there, anyway? In an early scene with several climbers in a tent at base camp, they all shout the cliché: "Because it's there!" And then someone asks it more seriously: "Why?" One man notes that at home he suffers from depression and here he feels cured of it. These people have issues.

And that gets to one of the other big problems with Everest, as that scene is the closest we get to a multidimensional presentation of these characters. The story is gripping, to be sure, but it's all about the nature of survival -- who will, who won't -- and very little about who these people really are. Josh Brolin gets outfitted with a Dole-Kemp 1996 presidential campaign T-shirt, to telegraph his character's conservative Texan personality -- and nothing else about him, except that he's obsessed with climbing, like everyone in this movie. That said, the performances across the board are solid, and thus elevate what are otherwise flat characters with nothing interesting shared about them except that they are climbing Mount Everest.

So then, without getting any real chance to get to know them as individuals, climbers start dying on their way down after summiting the mountain. Easily half the movie details their ascent, and then we see easy mistakes taken by people who are exhausted due to a slew of circumstances: not just all that climbing, but the thin air, limited numbers of oxygen tanks, and in one case suddenly losing eye sight. Things get truly horrifying, and several deaths occur with muted matter-of-factness, underscoring the indifference of their surroundings. More than one character just tilts right off the mountainside, out of sight and into the wind.

Why we need to see such things in three dimensions still escapes me, and it's mystifying that the film is not playing anywhere on regular 2D screens. The 3D is done well but unnecessary; the film would be every bit as effective without it. Seeing it on a large movie screen probably makes a notable difference in the impact, but overall, in terms of storytelling, it barely falls short of being the kind of movie that demands being seen on the big screen.

Just a couple of the many crazy people who risk their lives -- for what, exactly? -- in EVEREST.

Overall: B
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