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Everest - DVD Review

Everest

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE ecstasy and the agony of climbing the world’s tallest mountain is laid bare for all to see in Everest, Baltasar Kormákur’s hugely impressive recreation of the disaster that claimed the lives of eight people in 1996.

Based on a script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy (of, respectively, Gladiator and 127 Hours fame), Kormákur’s film offers a gruelling but entirely gripping account of the key events surrounding that tragedy, while simultaneously taking viewers on their own experience atop the mountain.

It’s such an immersive experience – especially in 3D and in IMAX format – that you can often quite literally feel like you’re up there with them, with the sound of the wind whistling around your ears, the thinness of the air leading to shortness of breath and the dizzying camera-work virtually inviting bouts of vertigo (whether you’ve previously suffered or not!).

And yet for all of the technical prowess surrounding the production, Kormákur never loses sight of the human element underpinning the tragedy, even though the scope of the tale and the amount of people it involved may ultimately lead to some feeling more overlooked than others.

Based upon various survivor accounts, including Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Everest predominantly follows a team of climbers led by Rob Hall, a Kiwi mountaineer who ran a climbing outfit called Adventure Consultants, as he attempts to navigate the treacherous terrain as well as the many competing groups of tourists intent on reaching the summit during the limited window of opportunity.

Included among his party are Texan thrill-seeker Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), mail-man Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), journalist Krakauer (Michael Kelly) and Japanese businesswoman Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), as well as fellow team member Andy Harris (Martin Henderson) and rival guide Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is also leading his own team.

Looking on, either from lower down the mountain or the other end of a phone line, are the likes of both Hall’s and Weathers’ wives (played, respectively by Keira Knightley and Robin Wright) and team co-ordinators Helen Wilton (Emily Watson) and Guy Cotter (Sam Worthington).

The early part of the film chronicles the lengthy trek up the mountain, during which acclimatisation must take place, while posing the question of why anyone would want to undertake such a death-defying task, especially since Hall has already stated that mankind isn’t designed to exist at the same cruising height as an airplane.

The second section, meanwhile, is all about survival. And it grips like a vice. Having taken the time to allow audiences to get to know a lot of the characters (most notably Hall and Weathers, but also Fischer, Harris and Namba), he ensures that we genuinely do care about the fate of all concerned.

But when death arrives, it is often swift and unsentimental. And it’s a testament to how well researched the director is that he doesn’t have time for anything overly showy in terms of build-up (there’s no slow-motion shots of people falling to their deaths). It only adds to the authenticity and docu-drama quality of proceedings.

That’s not to say the film is entirely devoid of sentiment. The fate of one team member is truly affecting, thereby allowing time for plenty of tears to be shed by those back home or waiting further down, while the question of ‘why’ posed at the top of the movie lingers, somewhat hauntingly, for some time afterwards. For while we can share in the short-lived joy of reaching the summit, the folly of taking on Mother Nature at her most powerful and unpredictable is every bit as agonising.

There are criticisms, of course. As previously mentioned, some of the more secondary characters do feel under-written, with Mori’s Namba certainly worthy of a few more on-screen minutes (especially given the quality of Mori’s portrayal and the interesting nature of her own story), while it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with who’s who once the bad weather hits and faces are lost beneath the protective layers of clothing. But even that adds to the sense of confusion that can only exist when placed in such conditions anyway.

In most other respects, Everest has to rate as a stunning achievement. It’s exciting, occasionally awe-inspiring and yet as gruelling and punishing as such a real-life story needs to be. It’s also emotionally compelling, poignant and intelligent enough to be thought-provoking. Once experienced, it’s not something to forget in a hurry.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 121mins
UK Blu-ray and DVD Release: Monday, January 18