We’ve seen enough films about the force of nature. From The Day After Tomorrow to The Impossible, the power of nature against the pesky humans of the world is a story we know intimately. Everest, on the other hand, is a different beast.
Tackling the 1996 disaster, leaving many dead, Everest reveals how our own human desires and ambitions can take us dangerously close to the edge. Rod Hall (Jason Clarke), explaining the magnificent feat, clarifies – “your body is literally dying” when climbing Mount Everest. We all fantasise about unique experiences that set us apart from the rat-race, and when you monetise something as iconic as Mount Everest, the conquest itself often trumps danger and safety.
Of course, the ‘Adventure Consultants’ team we join are gung-ho and ready to hike. We meet most backpackers as they set off. Mailman Doug (John Hawkes) is softly-spoken while Beck (Josh Brolin) is a brash Texan, keen to be heard but quick to judge. It’s a dangerous trek, past ice glaciers and falling avalanches. But in 1996, the mountain has become crowded. Many don’t have the same careful approach to the perilous journey as our leader, Rod Hall. Hall has a baby girl on the way, remaining in contact with his wife (Kiera Knightley) by phone. In addition to Doug and Beck is “six-out-of-seven summits” climber, Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) on her seventh peak, and Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a writer for Outside – a popular American magazine for mountaineers. Weighty themes of commercialisation of the Mount and lack-of-experience are touched upon, but not explored. Our brief explanation as to the purpose of each chosen venture is flippant – “because it’s there!” they all jeer. Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), leader of a separate mounting group, follows a different mantra. Rather than “hand-holding”- apparently Hall’s approach – Scott reckons that if you can’t climb it on your own, you shouldn’t be climbing it at all.
Perhaps he’s right. The magnificent beast of Mount Everest itself, piercing the sky as snow blows furiously across the surface, does look fearsome. Yet, Everest manages to capture a human sense of challenge. “Can I do that?” we wonder. In fact, the expertise in Everest’s direction is how the film sets it up to make you believe you could. For our sake, it begins as a wild, attainable trip. Carried by bus through the streets of Nepal and clinking beers as the guide explains the weeks ahead is a knowing nudge to what we’ve all experienced. Excitement at the cultural atmosphere and keenness in achieving something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. These aren’t far from lads on tour; backpackers; passionate extreme-sports junkies. We think we could be with them. It is initially all about the climb up – the stormy, horrific descent down is sudden, fast and immediate. Of course, Mount Everest itself is a character too, and director Baltasar Kormákur frames the monster from afar, maximising the scale and exploiting the cinema screen you watch it upon. Teeny tents are like tiny imperfections on an enormous, glorious canvas. Everest is a rich treat for the eye, with breath-taking scale and a deep use of perspective – perfect for 3D screenings.
So it is unfortunate that Everest crowds the film with too many characters, meaning the heart of the story is lost between the multiple bearded-blokes and crying-women. The deep loss is only truly felt in the final pictures, blinking on screen, revealing photographs of the deceased. The score doesn’t resonate either, begging for a bolder theme to match the titular peak itself. But Everest still hooked me in, strapped me up and took my breath away. Perhaps it’s the lack of detail that helps you dream about the experience, or the almost documentarian approach to the framing of the Himalayan landscape, that draws you in. But Everest is a marvel to behold – find your largest cinema screen and become thoroughly engrossed by these men and women risking life and limb, to tackle earth’s mightiest mountain.