Everest reaches low peaks

When I go on vacation I feel proud in saying I go for the scenery and to awe in the immense wonder of the landscapes. The people are whatever. People are the same wherever you go. That being said I think the filmmakers behind “Everest” subscribe to my traveling philosophy, as the enormity and beauty of the mountain terrain dwarfs the average-joe characters who never even had a shot at competing.
Not to say there are a shortage of ordinary characters populating this mountain epic. In fact, there are far too many. Based on the 1996 expeditions of two groups to climb Mount Everest, one led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and the other by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), there are so many white men on this mountain that they must be organized by the color of their puffy coats in order to tell them apart. But it doesn’t matter, because needless to say their journey proved to be as disastrous as climbing a massive mountain peak promises to be.
But that doesn’t come until the final half of the film. The first half is simply a lot of climbing and descriptions of the terrain and how treacherous it is, followed be examples of said treachery. You know, falling snow, slipping on ice, giant gaps and the like.
Director Baltasar Kormakur knows how to shoot his actors as they traverse the malicious mountain, making me realize how awesome all those IMAX documentaries I saw in school were. The cliffs are steep and the wind blows with such unforgiving power, filmed with such sweeping crane shots and interesting angles. I was amazed anyone could even remotely on hold on to the mountains icy sides. I can barely get out of bed without tripping. Everest is such a good villain and luckily Kormakur knew how to place it center stage.
However, in doing so everyone under the classification “human” is left off-stage hopelessly trying to peek out in hopes someone will notice them. But the climbers—the most notably being Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), Jon Krakuer (Michael Kelly), Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and Guy Cotter (Sam Worthington)—except worry and deal with frostbite. Not that they are bad people are bad characters. They’re just so bland and ordinary. Run of the mill, blue collar workers who are only special because they climbed a mountain at a certain period of time and met a certain fate.
This where I think the director and screenwriters (William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy) had trouble caring about them as well because when the storm starts a’comin, and the bodies start falling, I began to realize that “Everest” is just that: a movie where people fall dead like flies, and people go “Well…gotta keep going”.
It started when one gentleman, walking across yet another snowy ridge, just sort of falls off frame. No drama or shocking musical score. He falls, the other guy looks behind him with an “Oh…uh…hmm” mentality saying, “Yeah, he’s gone”, when another guy asks.
When it happens again soon after, a guy simply sliding off frame never to be seen again, I couldn’t help but chuckle. The staging of it with such a lack of passion I had to view it only as physical comedy. I’m sure the idea was to communicate the sense of horrific surprise that death can come at any time, but the fact no one seems to be caring about who it happens to is what causes the lack of emotional connection. One second they’re walking in the storm, the next shot they’re stone dead. That, mixed with a Buster Keaton pratfall and the “Whoops, there goes another” reaction, is what solicited my inappropriate snickering.
Even those who didn’t fall off the side of the cliff seemed to care about their own survival, with one man getting stuck on the cliff and just staying there till he died. The folks at base camp even said “Hey, we won’t be up there tonight to help you.” And he goes “Alright, I think I can hang out here another night.” He couldn’t. He died. Thrilling cinema!
The only story that resembles any sort of courageous act is that of Weathers, who after being seemingly left for dead on the cliff face, picks himself back up and walks back to base camp. But that also shows the folly and lack of humanity the surviving climbers have for the dead. There are no attempts to help those who have fallen, chalking it up to “Hey, that’s Everest.”
I’m sure some lives were saved, but you never see that happen on screen. People either give up and freeze to death of fall of the cliff never to been found. Courage is so hard to find in this movie that even when it happens it’s looked over in favor of all the failures. Everest is a cold, desolate, bleak environment that is equally stunning to behold. The movie “Everest” is all but the latter, reinforcing my firm belief: Go for the terrain, ignore the people around you.

GRADE: C

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