A famed mountaineer once said “Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous” and there are few more perilous than the King of the Seven Summits, Mount Everest. Baltasar Kormákur’s new film takes audiences back almost 20 years to the fateful events that would later become known as the 1996 Mount Everest disaster; two commercial expedition groups set out to conquer the summit but are left fighting for their lives as a blizzard traps them in the “death zone”.
While the dangers of living above 8,000m are the main drivers of Everest, the film showcases a stunning array of Himalayan beauty shots. It’s these dives into deep glacial crevasses or sweeping panoramas of rope bridges spanning enormous canyons that secure Everest’s position as a literally marvellous piece of filmmaking. There are moments when the sun falls onto the snow-topped peaks and the sheer scale of the environment can take your breath away, see it in IMAX and the cliff edges are more than enough to induce actual vertigo.
The grand disappointment is that Everest’s monumental visual appeal is deserving of much stronger narrative support than it actually receives. The story takes a considerable time to build-up to an engaging pace after a gentle opening, stumbling around as it clumsily explains the inherent risks of high-altitude activity and struggles to balance introductions around a weighty cast. The whole roster of talent are on fine form (not least Jason Clarke who excels in the lead as expedition leader Rob Hall) but are forced to fight for screen time and individual development. As a result, very few characters are given the space they deserve over Everest’s 2 hour running time.
Everest finds its footing and rhythm when the group leaves Base Camp to begin their real climbing, and from there it continues with genuine grip and suspense through to its emotional conclusion. Although there’s dialogue that seems cliched (despite apparent historical authenticity), Everest succeeds in bringing a tragedy to the screen with incredible strength in its cinematography and performances. It may lack the depth and thematic drive necessary to reach the heights of true, classic brilliance but packs more than enough visual punch to separate itself from the crowd.
★ ★ ★ ½
Everest is on wide release in UK & US Cinemas now.