Victoria Jelinek


Everest movie posterBase Camp Everest, 1996. Climbers from two commercial expeditions begin their final ascent to the summit. With little warning, a violent storm strikes the mountain and envelops them. The teams endure severe winds and subfreezing temperatures in their struggle to survive against the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Everest appears to have it all. A great locale, it’s set on the world’s mightiest mountain. It’s based on a real-life cliffhanger. The cast is stellar. The director is a cool Icelandic fellow. And, the co-screenwriter wrote Slumdog Millionaire and The Full Monty. Yet despite these elements and the filmmakers desire to create a spectacle, this movie is distinctly unthrilling.

It could have been gorgeous visually. In the least, a good landscape film. Instead, the mountains look like the sulphurous crust of an alien planet or a silty oceanic floor. The camera focuses on the individual actors in their color-coordinated outdoor gear, rather than what they’re seeing, which means context and visual possibilities are lost.

The storyline is presented as immutable fact, while various members of the ensemble cast make their way up the mountain in what is already their preordained fate. But why do they go? The film doesn’t seem to be interested in what might drive these characters up the side of a feral mountain to potential death. Is it for the views? In order to breath the thin air? To say that they’ve been there? We don’t know. We’re repeatedly told that the reason for these characters risking life-and-limb to climb Everest is the pseudo mountaineering philosophy, “Because it’s there.” But that doesn’t work for cinema. We have to feel like we’re there or it doesn’t send the chill up our spines. We have to feel as though we’re invested and relating on some level and if we don’t know anything, really, about the characters, how can we? It also infuriates me that Emily Watson and Robin Wright are relegated to playing the “mother hen” and the sidelined spouse, respectively.

As a caveat for my lackluster review, I concede that I may simply be the kind of person that doesn’t get into stories and films about mountains and mountaineers. It’s ironic, too, because I live in an alpinists ‘mecca.’ However, I watched this film with a friend who is a mountain guide, and who has climbed in the Himalayas (Ama Dablam). As the credits rolled and we made our way out of the cinema, I asked him what he thought. He softly chortled and replied, “It was totally unbelievable. Their clothes, hair, and equipment would have been really dirty…”