If we posit that a great film is both cinematography and story, EVEREST is not great as it does extremely well in the first area but fares poorly in the second. Obviously, Everest, the mountain, summit of the world, films magnificently. It is mighty, spectacular, awe-inspiring, frightening. It is both threatening and irresistible. Irresistible to the multitude striving to climb to the top or “summit,” to use their word. So irresistible that some 223* people have died trying, knowing full well that they might perish in the attempt. Climbers want to have that one great achievement not only because “it is there” as George Mallory, the great British climber (who died on the mountain in 1924) is reported to have said, but because there can be no greater challenge. Traveling to the moon is a piece of cake compared to this trek. Crossing the Atlanti alone on a sail boat, ditto. Sumitting Everest requires every cell in the body of the climber to be on high alert, perfectly functioning and serving its purpose. And the mind, the mental, even more to force the body a brutal physical exercise, deprived of oxygen, battling nature, its avalanches and its sudden vicious weather turns on a mountain top. Indeed, Everest, beautifully filmed and ominously looming, is the undisputed star in Baltasar Kormakur’s movie.
The story? Not so much. For one thing, there are too many players. Men for the most part, bearded, goggled, wearing oxygen masks and bulky equipment. If they didn’t call each other’s names from time to time or exchange calls on walkie-talkies, viewers would never know who is who. Also, the director and screenwriter, seemingly constrained by time and this too-large cast give us only the briefest glimpse into these climbers’ life and psychological setup, not allowing us to know them enough to worry about their fate in the face of extreme odds. A slew of competent actors (Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhal, etc.) try hard to engage us but don’t succeed. The women, including the great Emily Watson, play their part as “only” women—nurturing, worried, some, like Keira Knightley, actually pregnant.
All in all, while EVEREST fires the imagination as a spectacular postcard and though we can empathize at the sheer gall of those who brave elements and their own humanity to conquer it, we are never touched or engaged, which probably explains the relatively dismal box office performance of a brave venture.
(* by March 2012)