Film Review and Comparison: Everest

In 1996, a group of amateur and professional mountaineers climbed Mount Everest. In what turned into one of the most tragic disasters the mountain ever saw, eight people died and few lived to tell the tale of the storm that took down fathers, husbands, and the oldest woman to climb all seven summits. Everest is the new film based on those events with an all-star cast and shown in IMAX glory.

The film begins in Nepal as the gang assembles with their in-your-face product placement of North Face gear to begin their 6 week long trek to the summit. We meet Rob Hall, Andy Harris, Beck Weathers, Doug Hansen, Yasuko Namba, and Jon Krakauer; all members of the Adventure Consultants climbing group.

We get brief back stories like Beck not telling his wife he booked this $65,000 trip and Doug being divorced with a couple kids, before being thrust among more characters like Scott Fischer, Anatoli Boukreev, Helen Wilton, and Guy Cotter.

Rob and Andy give a basic run down of what is going to happen in a sort of orientation session. We learn how they will start the climb in a breeze-through capacity because the audience really wants to see the mountain and the tragedy. If you want more exposition, read Into Thin Air (which I did, because I felt I was missing a lot of information about the ascent.)

The movie doesn’t begin until after Rob and Doug have reached the summit…two hours late. Since this is Doug’s second attempt up the mountain, the moment is heart-wrenching when he pleads with Rob to let him reach the summit. He doesn’t want to come back another time. So the “perfect storm” begins with this delay and the log-jam of hikers in various elevations on the mountain.

Jon makes it up and then back down with a couple other hikers, but the others in the Adventure Consultants group are not doing so well. A massive storm cell crests over the peak just in time to watch hiker after hiker perish in the severe cold that got to 100 degrees below freezing. You can, of course, read about the disaster to find out exactly who died and how, but to save the movie spoilers, I’ll keep my lips sealed.

* * * * *

The film was entertaining and a decent watch with beautiful views of Austrian Alps, Iceland, and Nepal, but I came away feeling uneasy. All of the characters were treated lightly. The development was shallow and empty, so I found myself not caring about each person that climbed or died. I wasn’t given time to sympathize or get attached to anyone.

Jon Krakauer came out and said the movie was “total bull–.” While I am tempted to agree with him, the film is not titled Into Thin Air. It is called Everest using his story as inspiration.

While I can see why Krakauer would be offended or miffed by some of the exaggerations (ie: the conversation between Doug and Rob about their turning around seems to be reversed in the book), I can argue that this film is “inspired” by the event of 1996 rather than what he wrote about.

In Into Thin Air, Krakauer gives a much needed history of the mountain. Putting all of this in perspective really helped amplify the danger and risks climbing Mount Everest has. In the film, the exposition is glossed over in such a degree that I walked out thinking, “I think I could climb Everest. It’s just high and steep. No big deal.” But Krakauer gives example after example of the cons of mountaineering ie: one in four climbers will die on Mount Everest. That turned my Everest dream off tout suite.

When Krakauer said the movie was “total bull–,” he said people should read his book. That sounds like a marketing ploy to drive his book sales rather than being upset of his portrayal by Michael Kelly (House of Cards). He says the scene where Anatoli came and asked him for help with the stranded climbers never happened, and he was never contacted by Kelly to learn more about the character.

But within his own book, Krakauer says details that were recounted later were mis-remembered or downright forgotten. Isn’t it possible Krakauer doesn’t remember being asked for help by Anatoli? How can he say the movie is “bull” if after the publication of his 1996 article, he realized he had misinformation in it? He recounts this moment of panic in his book, which he told me to read.

In the same article where Krakauer says Everest is “total bull,” and that people should read his book, he also plugs his new documentary. I’m calling “total bull” on his “total bull.” If the film were called Into Thin Air, I would understand his frustration a little more. But it’s not. He’s using the limelight to push his own agenda.

* * * * *

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Everest, it was a decent watch and a glimpse into the disaster that took eight lives on May 11, 1996. The all-star cast made for a fun viewing even though all of the familiar faces and storylines were cut short. If this were released as a summer blockbuster, I think it would have been more fitting for my expectations. But released in September, in between the months of tent-pole box office numbers and Oscar season qualifications, the film feels misplaced and empty.

2 out of 5 stars



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