I should start off by mentioning that I set myself up to love the latest, big budget adventure flick Everest. After the great early buzz the film received, I almost immediately bought tickets for the opening day screening at the local Cinerama in Seattle. This 70 mm screen is the ultimate place to go see big movies spectacles so believe me when I say that I was prepared to go along for the ride. So when I finally sat down to watch it, the visual effects were as stunning as I expected them to be. The sound design and the cinematography and the way they recreated the setting all felt breathtaking. But for as spectacular as those things were, everything else about Everest is equally abysmal. There’s no way around it, this movie is a pretty looking mess that contains flat characters and a sloppy story.
The movie focuses on the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest which resulted in multiple fatalities. In particular, the movie focuses on the expedition led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) to make it up to the peak. Among the people in his crew are mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), Texas native Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and author Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly). The movie follows them as they train and eventually begin there fateful journey up the mountain.
The sad thing about the awful script for this movie is that in some way I can at least sympathize with what the writers and the director were trying to do. It’s clear that they cared very deeply about this incident and wanted to respectfully present every person affected by this disaster from the victims to the families. In some ways, this is a positive attribute because it leads to them putting as much detail as they can into the accuracy of everything from what the climbers are wearing to the design of the base to the ways in which they prepared. Say what you will, this movie at least seems well informed about its subject. Unfortunately, this is the thing that also kills the movie. The movie wants to cover every single person affected and while there’s a level of integrity to doing so, it makes the movie basically unintelligible.
It’s somewhat manageable at first when everyone is at base camp but once disaster strikes, the movie goes totally off the rails. These moments when they’re getting hit pretty bad by snow storms and avalanches should be thrilling and intense like the flood in The Impossible or the opening space station destruction in Gravity. If you see these scenes as successful because they managed to add clarity and perspective to these moments of pure madness, prepare to be let down by what Everest does.
What we instead get is this big moment of chaos where you’re cutting back and forth really quickly between around ten different perspectives. They take this huge moment of mayhem and they poorly shift between what’s happening to all these different people. What’s going on in the last hour and 30 minutes tries to follow so many different things that these disaster scenes go from heart pounding to disappointingly boring. The storyline becomes so indecipherable that you stop caring about what’s going on because the movie gives you no time to worry about anything that’s happening to anyone. The disaster sequences feel like a confused montage of underdeveloped characters doing things that are weakly explained or too abrupt to receive any form of response from its audience.
There are so many things in this movie that happen so fast and then end up feeling so unresolved by the ending. There are multiple sub-plots that they try to take on and in the process they put quantity over quality. Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a pure example of a character where I can see why they added him but they put him in so poorly that his entire character arc can be summed as frustrating and useless. They set him up as one of the more important characters and by the end of the movie he’s dispatched in way that’s never fully explained and makes no possible sense. In real life there’s probably an explanation for what he did but in the movie they have no room to go into detail with what exactly happened to him. He’s one of several people lost in the need to note the entire event at whatever cost. Everest never seems intelligent or bold. Even the things the movie does well enough in its story have been performed far superior in even more recent adventure movies. I wanted the spectacular visual effects to absorb me like Gravity did but this movie is so choppy that it’s almost as if the directors daring you to not get involved with what’s going on despite how big and epic its story is. By the last act, I was fully able to take him up on that dare.
It’s so upsetting to see the movie end up this bad because there’s so many ways in which this could’ve worked. The movie has a really fascinating story that makes me want to actually seek out the book Into Thin Air by survivor Jon Krakauer. If they had just focused on a few people and done it in a smarter way, I would have no problem praising this movie. As previously mentioned, the film shows off some of the best visual effects I’ve seen all year for a film. At its best moments, Everest captures the sheer scale and the majesty of this natural wonder. This movie is an example of the ways in which visual effects can be used to put you into this strange, unique world that seems absolutely believable. I will give this film that it is pretty much great when you only look at it for its music and its visuals.
When you just see who’s in it, Everest has one of the best casts of the year. Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightly, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Robin Wright and Sharlto Copley are a pretty impressive lineup and it’s pathetic when you find out that Josh Brolin and Emily Watson are the only ones who deliver anything beyond sup-par. At best, most of the cast is wasted like Sharlto Copley or John Hawke. At worst, you end up with a poorly casted Robin Wright doing an awkward southern accent as Brolin’s wife in scenes that feel totally out of place in comparison to everything else that’s going on.
The story of Everest is an impressive challenge that nobody came to the occasion for. The storyline ranges from unambitious to lost in adaptation. The characters are one note and forgettable. This movie contains some strong, recommendable visual effects and 3D but there are too many areas of this that feel so unsatisfying and poor that I have to count this one as a strong disappointment. Something so big and compelling shouldn’t equal something that feels so tame and forgettable.
Release Date: 9/25/2015
Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightly, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Robin Wright and Sharlto Copley
Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Screenplay by: William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy