Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nicky Kentish Barnes, Tyler Thompson, and Brian Oliver. Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. Release date: September 18, 2015 (IMAX), September 25, 2015 (wide).
If there’s one thing that I expect from a Baltasar Kormákur-directed movie, it’s fun. That’s what I’ve come to expect from his last two English-language releases, Contraband and 2 Guns, so when I heard he was directing a disaster movie about a climb of Everest, I was ecstatic. As it turns out, my expectations were misplaced, as Everest is anything but fun. It’s not really “bad,” either – it’s just that it doesn’t contain much content that could be construed as fun.
The film, which reminds us before it begins that it’s based on a true story, is set in 1996, shortly after the commercial Everest climbing industry started to take off. The idea is that professional climbers would get paid a great deal of money to take amateur hikers on an excursion up to the mountain’s summit, and then back down. As anyone who followed the story in 1996 knows, it didn’t exactly go swimmingly. Everest follows a couple of groups and several characters, detailing their training, climb, and then fight for survival once the disaster strikes – which in this case is severely inclement weather and a distinct lack of oxygen.
Our main group is led by Rob (Jason Clarke). Another one is led by Scott (Jake Gyllenhaal). The only two clients who make much of an impression are Beck (Josh Brolin) and Doug (John Hawkes). Outside of these four characters, the cast is largely interchangeable. They spend so much time in snow gear anyway that it’s sometimes impossible to tell who’s who at any given moment; you have to try to remember the colors of their jackets, and since there are maybe three different colors and a dozen characters, you can probably figure out why that doesn’t exactly work. Outside of a couple of the performances, you can’t even notice the acting. Gyllenhaal, Clarke, and Brolin are fine, Hawkes is great, and everyone else is just there.
When watching Everest, I tried to think of what the best mountain climbing movie was. Outside of Touching the Void, I struggled. (Cliffhanger is not an acceptable response.) Maybe it’s because so many of the scenes wind up being the same – people, bundled up, walking on a slight incline with blowing snow partially obscuring the view – or maybe it’s a genre that just doesn’t have a ton of good movies within it.
Some people stop watching movies early on because they’re too boring, and I feel like Everest will be one of these because of how long it takes to get to the disaster.
Everest, for its first two-thirds, is about as good of a simulation as you’re going to get of what it’s like to climb the mountain – and as boring as that sounds. We watch the hikers acclimate themselves to the environment, we see a couple of small climbs, the guides set everything up, and then we finally climb the mountain. It’s not until the actual climb occurs that things begin to go wrong and Everest starts to get interesting – disaster strikes. Before that point, for over an hour, all we’re watching is a mountain-climbing simulation. It’s intriguing for a bit, but then we begin to want to see some sort of adversity; the mountain itself seems like it’ll be easy enough to overcome.
Once the disaster strikes, the pace quickens and the movie becomes a story of survival – one that’s at times thrilling and inspiring. Who will live? Who will die? Will those on the ground be able to rescue those stranded on the mountain? This is good stuff! It’s really too bad it takes what feels like forever to get there. And it’s not like we’re building character during the time leading up to the disaster; these are generic characters who are hard to tell apart from each other. One has a pregnant wife, one has a medical condition, one has a family – apart from these things, they could all be the same character. A couple of deaths happen to people I didn’t even know were in the movie until they were deceased. Everest either needed to get to the disaster earlier or it needed to use its build-up time to actually give us real characters. It sits in a void where nothing much happens, and it’s easy to tune out and miss the good parts because of this. Some people stop watching movies early on because they’re too boring, and I feel like Everest will be one of these because of how long it takes to get to the disaster.
About the only undeniably great part of Everest is the cinematography, which does capture the beauty of the scenery. You can understand why people would risk life and limb to experience these sorts of views first-hand, which is important to empathize with the characters. The film is being presented in IMAX and 3D, and while it doesn’t need either – particularly the latter – it does benefit from the big screen. Some movies play the same or even better on a television set; Everest will have more of an impact on the big screen simply because of what is being shown on-camera.
Two-thirds an accurate but boring mountain-climbing simulation, and one-third a gripping tale of survival, Everest is certainly a mixed bag. It takes too long to get to the part we all want to see, it doesn’t develop its characters well at all, and by the time we get to the disaster, it’s easy to feel worn down by the slog that came before. It’s beautiful to look at from start to finish, and it certainly works best on a large screen, but Everest is a movie with too many problems to wholeheartedly recommend, unless you just love watching repetitive scenes of bland characters climbing a snowy mountain.
Bottom Line: Everest takes too long to get to its disaster and fails to build up any of its characters to make us care once we do get there.
Recommendation: If you love mountain climbing, Everest‘s first two-thirds won’t feel like such a slog. For most other people, it’ll be so off-putting that you may not even get to the good part – and if you do, you won’t have as much fun as you should.[rating=2]