October 28, 2015

Everest: Into Thin Air and a Thinner Story

By Stephon Boatwright In Reviews

Everest: 2/5 stars

I’m coming into the Everest film debate a little late, but I just can’t help myself.  In my review of Meru, written before seeing Everest, I suspected that the film was going to be too digitally dense, with special effects burying the story of the actual tragedy.  Well, I was right.

The story of the 1996 disaster is well-known in mountaineering circles by now, mostly because of the highest-selling climbing book ever written, John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  The book was immediately turned into an atrocious made-for-TV film that remained the only depiction of the event until Everest.  The film is not an adaptation of the book though.  In fact, Krakauer had some choice words for the film:

“It’s total bull…Anyone who goes to that movie and wants a

fact-based account should read Into Thin Air”

However, he may have a personal reason for being upset.  One of the more uncomfortable moments of the film occurs when Krakauer (portrayed by House of Cards actor Michael Kelly) refuses to aid the rescue effort due to a mixture of fear and snow blindness.  Kelly trembles as he utters “I don’t want to die man.”

I’m not sure which account is accurate, but that calls the film’s validity into question.  Aside from the accuracy issues, the acting is generally good, with Jason Clark, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Brolin delivering stellar performances, when they actually acted that is.

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Everest, like most disaster films, has an issue with giving the viewer a high-quality narrative in-between the avalanches, equipment malfunctions and sudden thunder snows.  Other than the heart-wrenching conversations between Rob Hall and his pregnant wife, it’s difficult to develop a solid sense of each climber’s humanity, let alone why they’re risking it all.  The film takes the “they don’t even know” method, leaving you to assume why each climber signed-up for the life-threatening struggle.  Unlike Cloverfield or 2012 though, these men and women actually existed and had complex and compelling stories that were glossed over to show how advanced special effects have become.

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The difference between a film like Meru and a film like Everest is simply success vs disaster.  The former is a film for climbers and outdoors enthusiast, the later is a Hollywood crowd-pleaser meant for the masses.  Meru has its real-life, harrowing elements, but ultimately wants to show how skilled mountaineers preserver.  Would a film about a successful mountain ascent sell like Everest?  Probably not.  Perhaps that’s why the director and screenwriters chose to depict a slow-motion catastrophe that was eerily missing the human element.  There’s something macabre in simply watching life coldly snuffed out over a two and a half hour timespan.

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