Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: EVEREST

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


            I understand the movies that get the most criticism these days are movies based on true stories.  Most recently, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON caught flack for not telling the entire truth about certain aspects of a few characters’ relationships with women.  But can a movie rely too much on the real life details of an event?
            EVEREST is in fact based on real events in the spring of 1996.  From the limited research I’ve done, most of the movie is factually accurate.  That’s all well & good: wanting to pay homage to those who perished on that mountain top.  The problem with EVEREST is that the story itself isn’t that compelling to begin with.  Combine that with the fact that one of the people in the group featured in the movie is a famous outdoors journalist who I know is still alive as I write this review, all tension is gone.  Not just a smidgen, all of it.  Knowing a character is or is not going to die right off the bat doesn’t automatically ruin a movie-going experience.  But since EVEREST is a survival/disaster movie, the driving force is the suspense from wondering who is going to live to see the end credits.  Once I learned that character’s identity, the movie lost me.
            It also didn’t help that I didn’t really care about any of the characters.  Screenwriters William Nicholson (GLADIATOR, LES MISERABLES) and Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) do not allow us to view the characters as interesting individuals.  There are just too many characters to get a read on any of them, apart from getting motivations as to why a few of them are climbing Mt. Everest.  This is a shame because this is a cast to die for.  I can’t remember the last movie with five Oscar nominees (Gyllenhaal, Hawkes, Brolin, Watson, Knightley) that failed this poorly to engage me.  Of the five main, named women in the movie, two of them (Knightly & Wright, especially) are relegated to the thankless “worried wife at home” role.
            That’s not to say the movie couldn’t win me back.  This was a big budget disaster movie, which meant the movie should at least look nice.  And, for the most part, it did.  It just didn’t blow me away.  Don’t get me wrong, I was astonished at how real the mountain looked.  The problem was Mt. Everest only looked terrifying once in a 5 minute scene early on where a character almost falls to his/her death on a rickety ladder while crossing an ice crevasse.  That is also the only time the 3D works.  [Note: Normally, I wouldn’t criticize a movie as a whole based on 3D effects.  EVEREST, however, is a special case where the movie was released for one week in only IMAX 3D, making the 3D intentionally part of the theatrical experience & fair game for criticism.]  The rest of the time, the 3D has a net zero effect at best and is excruciating to look at its worst.  3D has worked in the hands of master filmmakers but Baltasar Korm├íkur (CONTRABAND, 2 GUNS) is not one of them.
            EVEREST is almost half an hour too long & too boring for its own good.  It takes about 75 minutes for the disastrous storm to put the group in any type of real peril.  And once the problems start, the writers don’t force the characters into action in any meaningful way.  All we see for the final 45 minutes is some melodrama through a walkie talkie and climbers freezing to death or going crazy & falling off the mountain.  That’s right.  I’m sorry to spoil the movie like that but four climbers freeze to death while two others fall victim to high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) in almost unintentionally comedic fashion.  Again, no tension, no suspense; they just stop breathing or jump off the screen.  A great movie could be made about a tragic trek up a mountain.  Basically, EVEREST should have been GRAVITY in the Himalayas.
            EVEREST had so much potential.  A true story that tugged at the heartstrings in more ways than one.  A breathtaking setting upon which great visuals could be created.  A cast any great director dreams of at their disposal.  But EVEREST lacked what was most important: a competent director for the material and a screenplay that created any sort of characters to build on & one that created any speck of tension, suspense or entertainment.  For 120 minutes, you get almost nothing.  What a shame.

*