Disaster Movie ‘Everest’ Is Worth Seeing


Everest is not one of those feel-good movies where people conquer seemingly impossible tasks. It is far closer to a standard disaster movie. Things go terribly wrong and people die. But it is an exciting film focusing on how well some people manage to survive in the worst of situations.

Extreme vacationing was a fad, for what reason I will never figure out, in the 1990s. The idea was to take regular people and put them through all sorts of challenges as a way of “relaxing” from tough jobs. So it was with the groups that decided to climb Mount Everest in 1996. And instead of a nice challenge, the climbers turned it into the bloodiest day Everest ever had up to that point.

The opening part of the movie focuses on the different characters. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is a New Zealand professional guide who wanted to turn Everest into a tourist destination at a rate of $65,000 per person. He is so successful that a whole passel of climbers and climb groups crowd Everest in May 1996. Included in Hall’s group are Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), magazine writer Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes). There is also a more free-wheeling group led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal).

The opening part of the film, getting to know characters and watching the logistics of creating a base 17,000 feet up the mountainside, is fascinating. The preparation is extensive, pushing audiences to understand how difficult it is for humans to reach the 29,000-foot-high summit, so high that helicopters and planes cannot get there for a rescue. The climbers are on their own. The middle of the film is a grueling account of the ascent, and then comes an enormous storm and everything goes wrong.

The characters constantly speak about the fact they are not competing with each other but with the mountain itself. And once the climbers discover that they are cut off with not nearly enough oxygen, this turns into a gripping, very tight movie of survival. Many of the climbers will die; the mountain is unforgiving. Finally, when the survivors arrive, there is a quick rolling of the credits… no time to mourn.

The cast is OK. Most of the parts are pretty standard, and, once the climbing and disaster begin, it is difficult to tell which character is which. Remember that it is very, very cold, and so everyone is bundled up and often wearing oxygen masks. Several of the stars prominently mentioned in trailers have very short parts. Gyllenhaal is definitely a supporting actor and not on film for a very long period of time. The women appear mostly as support for them early on or in typical waiting-wives fashion later. Some good actresses were really wasted. The leading men were pretty good, although, as mentioned above, it was often difficult to tell them apart.

The real main character is the mountain itself. The cinematography is spectacular, although large parts were done either in Europe or through computer imagery rather than on location. As someone who gets nervous going above the third rung of a ladder, I chose the “regular” version. I have been told that it is far more spectacular in 3D, and overwhelming in the 3D IMAX version, but you will have to see for yourself.

It is a very good movie of its type. It has been compared to the film of two years ago, Gravity, in terms of the battle for survival. However, that film was a nonstop battle almost from the beginning and focused on one character. Here, we have a far longer background, which was a good thing. I never realized how complicated and difficult something like this would be, so it was a good setup for the whole film.

I liked the film. I was enthralled by the last half as the men battled the elements in their struggle. The fact that there were losses, that climbers died, made the whole thing seem far more realistic.

We are beginning to get into the season when new films start to move away from spectacle and toward more intense characterizations. This film was still very focused on the first, but it did it very well.

Everest is very much worth seeing.