Every single poster for Everest acts as a cautionary tale for regular people who fantasise about climbing to the top of Mount Everest. If one of the many poster taglines that double as warnings are to be believed, Everest is “the most dangerous place on earth”, a statement that has clearly been made by a marketing executive who has never travelled to any Middle Eastern territory taken over by ISIS. The true-life story behind Everest is a tragic accident that was impossible to avoid – but despite nobody being able to predict the fatal turn of events that happened, the film seems to operate as a feature length “I told you so” to the climbers, all but criticising them for wanting to achieve the significant feat of climbing up the mountain.
When fatal events happen, the film doesn’t even seem to care that much, as it seems to assume their fate was sealed as soon as they got on their flights to Nepal. It uses this disaster story scenario in order to make the characters as cliched and uninteresting as possible – if they are fortunate enough to be given screen time at all. This is a film where a real life human tragedy is constantly playing second fiddle to special effects; director Baltasar Kormákur is clearly far more engaged by the technology rather than the characters. In a film like Gravity, where B-movie narrative simplicity and broad character archetypes are utilised in order to focus on creating an immersive 3D cinema experience, caring more about the design of the film is a no-brainer. When making a film about a true life disaster that you want to equally make an innovative 3D blockbuster, it is a bit selfish on the behalf of the filmmakers to prioritise innovating moviemaking technology over paying tribute to the climbers, when the least that could be done is give both elements equal weight.
For those of you ignorant of real life events (shamefully including me in this case), Everest documents the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster. Two expedition groups attempted to summit to the top of the mountain, the first led by Rob Hall (Jason “Bland” Clarke) with fellow climbers including Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and a Japanese woman who became the oldest woman to climb Everest yet is magnificently sidelined despite having the most interesting real-life background. The other team is led by Jake Gyllenhaal, who I initially assumed was going to be revealed as an untrustworthy character due to his prominent man-bun, possibly the most untrustworthy characteristic in any fictional male character in this hipster-riddled day and age. As they make their way up to the summit, Oxygen canisters prove to be in short supply, leading shit to go down. What follows more closely resembles an intimate character drama, only one that takes place in the midst of a weather shit-storm that drowns out all the characters. Every time we cut back to an underused Keira Knightley as Rob Hall’s stay-at-home pregnant wife, I was reminded of what human conversation sounds like when it is grounded in genuine emotion and not crippled by excessive sound design.
The film celebrates broad character archetypes, despite the real-life characters being exceptionally fascinating individuals with interesting stories to be told. Co-writer Simon Beaufoy previously subverted disaster movie stereotypes with his screenplay for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Here, he gives the impression he is equally doing that, most notably in a scene that embraces the ridiculousness of the immortal answer to the question of why you’d want to climb Everest, where the characters give groan-inducing laughs, cackling “because it’s there!” in a way that alerts you they are fully aware of the cliches. But this is a rare display of self-awareness; the thinking is presumably to make all the characters as broad as possible so we can all relate – the lack of specificity in characterisation works against it, knowing that I would undeniably care about the characters if they had been written as they were in real life.
This isn’t to say Everest isn’t an enjoyable cinematic spectacle – it is. But it isn’t one that you’ll care about after viewing and isn’t the 3D game-changer it has been advertised as. Alongside The Martian and The Walk, Hollywood are hammering the final nail into the 3D coffin with a string of productions that are claimed to revolutionise the technology; all Everest does is remind me that mountains are pointy. There is no depth to the visuals, in the way that there is in Gravity or Life of Pi, meaning that it will look as thrillingly cinematic in 2D. However, if you want to see the dead body of a human being up-close, then I guess the 3D option is for you.