Release: 18th January 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
On the morning of May 10, 1996, climbers (Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin) from two expeditions start their final ascent toward the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. With little warning, a violent storm strikes the mountain, engulfing the adventurers in one of the fiercest blizzards ever encountered by man. Challenged by the harshest conditions imaginable, the teams must endure blistering winds and freezing temperatures in an epic battle to survive against nearly impossible odds.
Why anyone would risk life and limb to climb Everest is beyond most people. The views might well be lovely, and the sense of achievement is surely a wonderful, if not short lived, thrill. But why the hell would you want to, as Rob Hall himself puts it, “die slowly” just to climb a rock? After watching Balthazar Kormakur’s biographical adventure of the Hall expedition, it is actually a lot easier to see the beauty in what these mountaineers do; and also the tragedy of how attempting something so admirable could ultimately be your undoing.
The key to Everest’s success – beyond its inspiring and heartbreaking true story – is the fact the Kormakur does everything in his power to make you taste the experience. Extensive location shoots have given Everest a tangible threat, a solid backdrop for the drama to unfold on. Shortness of breath, soars, welts, hunger, thirst, warmth, freeze burns, wind, rain, snow, tiredness; all richly portrayed onscreen, and in turn felt by us the audience. There is no escaping the ordeal, even from the comfort of your sofa.
How ironic it is then when at times Kormakur – for obvious reasons – has to substitute reality for sets and green screen. As hard as they might have tried to blur the lines, the joins are glaringly obvious and it only serves to lessen the impact of said scenes. It is a colossal shame, but the efforts taken outside of this give Everest mitigating circumstances for allowance. At the end of the day, you can’t quite justify risking the lives of cast and crew to tell a story, no matter how extraordinary that story might be.
Everest’s weak link is the anonymous nature of its central cast. This is a film based on a true story, about real people. But it becomes so easy to forget who is who under all those layers. Efforts are made to supply certain cast members with certain colour coats. But secondary characters are easily lost in the snow and ice. There was a full 10 minutes when I though Josh Brolin was Michael Kelly, and I lost complete track of Martin Henderson until Jason Clarke found him for me. This is probably fallout from the nature of the film and its location, but it is very disheartening when you invest so much with a character and then are drawn out of the film trying to follow the ball under the cup.
This being said, the cast actually do a wonderful job when they can be identified. Clarke and Emily Watson are especially magnificent, while each cast member gets some wonderful moments. But the biggest star of the film is Everest herself; she is at once utterly terrifying and absolutely stunning.
Film Grade: B
Aside from the rich Director’s Commentary, the most appealing and rewarding feature here is Aspiring to Authenticity: The Real Story. The story behind the the movie is one that really touches and inspires. With interviews from some very important players in the events that took place, this is a real gem. The main drawback is that at a tad over 6 minutes, this feature is 10% of what it should be.
Race to the Summit: The Making of Everest is a nice look at the efforts taken to brave the harsh climates of reality in bringing the film to life. It really does hammer home how important location shoots are in a film such as this.
To cap things off, there is Learning to Climb and A Mountain of Work which both focus on the actors and the sets built to film what couldn’t be done for real. These are more your bog standard promo pieces, but nice little windows into production none-the-less.
Special Features Grade: C+
A hugely commendable piece of cinema. Everest may not be much beyond a survival movie, but it pulls out every trick in the book to build authenticity and do right by those who inspired its narrative. With a healthy if not wanting set of special features, this is the closest you could possibly get to taming Everest, without venturing up her yourself.