I never thought I’d find myself rooting for a blizzard.
Everest tells the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, in which eight people died on the mountain after being caught in such a storm. Not snowed on and blown about — actually caught inside the storm system, because the mountain they were on was higher than the clouds. The film brings in high profile actors Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin to play expedition leaders Rob Hall and Scott Fischer and recreational climber Beck Weathers, respectively.
The first 40 minutes of this movie should have been completely chopped off. Everyone who knows the story or has seen even a single trailer knows what’s going to happen — they’re going to get caught in a storm and die. But the film opens with a deluge of exposition about the general dangers of Mount Everest and how it’s cold and how humans need oxygen to live. They make the importance of oxygen a particular point, and that’s particularly annoying because it’s particularly universal knowledge.
None of this has any impact on the story. These people don’t die because Everest is generally just that dangerous — it isn’t — they died because they stayed too long at the summit and got caught in a storm that, somehow, no one who watches the skies for a living saw coming. So that 20 minute lecture about the symptoms of oxygen deprivation seems even more like a boring waste of time when it turns out you won’t need that information later in the movie*, even if you hadn’t already picked it up over the course of being alive.
The only part of this leg of the movie with any impact on the second act is when the characters discuss their motivations for making this dangerous trek. This is the movie’s only opportunity to get viewers emotionally invested in what’s about to happen, outside of the “has family” excuse for character development. It fails miserably. Maybe excluding climbing and adventuring enthusiasts who already have these feelings, there’s no way to sympathize with these characters, who spend thousands of dollars for a professional hiker to hold their hands up the mountain so they can say they climbed it. The scene doesn’t go much further than the snippet at 1:10 of the trailer. Be sure to watch until 1:55 for the WORDS segment.
So by the time the storm finally hits, about an hour and a half into a two hour movie, the audience has already been stuck the entire time with this group of people they have no reason to care about for 40 minutes longer than necessary, and it makes morbid sense to be excited for them dying horribly. Enjoyment of this act is muted by the heavy-handed requiems awarded to characters who’s names you don’t even remember.
It’s a sad thing, because given the themes they touch on and the problems with this movie’s story structure, the way to build a film around this story is painfully obvious. Open on the day of their ascent with a speech from Hall about how hard they’ve all worked to get to this point, then have the entire movie be about the climb and the disaster. Insert character development through idle chit chat on the way up — actual character development, where they display idiosyncrasies and characteristics, not lame backstory — and focus harder on the themes about the commercialization of human experience and the question about whether or not what they’re doing really counts as climbing Everest. The conversation gets more intense as they get higher up and the conditions become more dire, and when the storm eventually hits, viewers have a good idea of who everyone is and are emotionally invested in the outcome.
Everest lacks even the basic mechanics described in this story, and feels more like a docudrama than a movie.
An additional note — the 3D is atrocious. The layers are separated too far from each other, giving visuals a magazine-cutout feel. It’s so bad that lens flair, normally an awesome thing, is noticeably closer to the viewer than the rest of the sky. When the blizzard hits, it gets to the point that it actually interferes with your ability to see what’s going on because the swirling snow pops out so far that it blocks the foreground.
This may or may not be a minor detail, as 3D is a stupid gimmick to make more money without making a better movie and no one should ever waste theirs on it anyway, but it raises a lot of questions about the visuals in general. There are several focus issues with the 3D film, and I genuinely can’t tell whether or not many shots are supposed to be blurry or if the 3D is just that awful. There’s one shot toward the end with two characters, one of whom is on the phone. The other is barely out of focus, but leans forward into the focus when it’s her line, then back out of focus. It’s definitely bad, but I’ve no way of knowing if this was intentional or even present in the standard version of the movie.
Everest will go into limited release Sept. 18 and expand nationwide Sept. 25.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Mike Huckabee just compared abortion to slavery. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.
*Um… Um, Leo? The first two people that die show clear symptoms of oxygen depriv-yeah I KNOW
The first two deaths happen after the people start wobbling around or taking their clothes off, but they don’t die because the air’s too thin, they die because they slip and fall off of the tallest mountain on Earth. In the movie, this happens because their brains aren’t working anymore, but it could happen for any number of reasons instead, such as, I don’t know, being caught inside of a blizzard. The only reason they do the oxygen deprivation boogie is to validate the film’s earlier terrible decision to devote 40 minutes of everyone’s lives to the stupid oxygen lectureSO DONT EVEN GIVE ME THAT SHIT