Venice opener “Everest” (September 18) is a thrill-ride that deftly exploits the strengths of IMAX 3D to take us into a desolate upper-air atmosphere that defies any rational logic for human existence. “Why go?” journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks his fellow Everest climbers for his chronicle of the storm-tossed 1996 expedition, “Into Thin Air.” “Because it’s there.”
Director Baltasar Kormákur is a member of a growing band of truly international filmmakers who make films at home as well as Hollywood. Producer-star Mark Wahlberg starred in “Contraband,” Kormákur remake of his own “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” took a shine to the rugged Iceland actor-director, and went on to make another film with him, the $80-million actioner “Two Guns,” co-starring Denzel Washington. Wahlberg also produced an HBO pilot with him, “The Missionary.”
Kormákur is accustomed to weathering harsh conditions and directed the 2012 survival film “The Deep,” uses many tricks in his filmmaking arsenal–subzero soundstage with vertiginous ladder, real snow, location footage in the Dolomites, plus CGI “extensions.”
He also put his actors through enough cold and altitude so that they suffered–his goal was to make them not act at all. Josh Brolin, who hates heights, looks genuinely scared as he dangles above a chasm (on a set) and actually was so stiff and frightened that he bruised his leg. He gives the richest performance among the well-cast ensemble ably led by Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal.
With the backing of Working Title and Universal and a strong dramatic script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, Kormákur set out to make a movie that was both grittily naturalistic and big-scale Hollywood epic, and succeeded. Now he’s got the studio bonafides to make his long-in-the-works Viking epic. I can’t wait.
See the review roundup from Venice below:
Filming at the foot of Everest but more prominently in the Dolomites, and with augmenting visual effects, Kormákur and cinematographer Salvatore Totino (‘Cinderella Man’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’) excel in putting us on the mountain. The visuals are simply jaw-dropping, whether of yaks being led through the snow, a sweeping helicopter shot that takes us through a canyon before swooping over the characters traversing it on a ropewalk, or the ‘practice’ climb, which sees Weathers stumble on a ladder across an icy chasm.
While it pays homage to the sacred dimensions of the mountain, “Everest” falls short of acknowledging its locals, relegating the sherpas on the voyage to anonymous background figures. Beyond a brief early scene set at a Tibetan temple, the movie shows little regard for the native culture. But that in itself taps into its traumatic aspects of the narrative, imbuing it with shades of a horror movie where reckless kids venture into the woods and never return. In “Everest,” the kids are backpack-clad thrill-seekers giddy with excitement about conquering the world, until they get buried by it.
Following the 2014 and 2015 avalanche disasters that killed more than 35 people trying to scale the highest mountain on Earth, the timing is either wildly inappropriate or grimly right for “Everest,” though it would be awfully hard to argue that it’s too soon. A properly grueling dramatization of the ill-fated May 1996 expedition that saw eight climbers expire in a blizzard, this brusquely visualized, choppily played epic serves as the latest cinematic opportunity for Mother Nature to flaunt her utter indifference to human survival. Achieving fitful flurries of emotion amid an otherwise slow, agonizing descent into physical and dramatic paralysis, director Baltasar Kormakur’s latest and biggest U.S. studio effort should ride its Imax 3D event-picture status to decent theatrical returns worldwide, aided by a topical resurgence of interest in the movie’s subject. Still, with its more stolid than inspired execution, it’s unclear whether the Sept. 18 Universal release can reach its desired commercial apex.
Working from a screenplay credited to William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, Kormákur (2 Guns, Contraband) sets Everest up in the typical disaster-movie mode, establishing the characters in simplistic terms so that we learn, at most, maybe two things about any one person. (A convenient device is a reference to the worried wife that the climber left at home.) But when Kormákur has the characters lay out the reasons why they’re obsessed with such a dangerous sport, the explanations tend to be perfunctory rather than enlightening. This proves problematic later when the film asks us to be sympathetic to their plight once their passion leads some of them to an early grave.
For the 99.999 percent of us who will never climb Mount Everest, the new 3D Imax drama “Everest” provides plenty of vividly illustrated reasons to rationalize leaving it off one’s bucket list. However, there are quite a few good reasons to see this robust dramatization of a 1996 assault on the world’s tallest mountain that went disastrously wrong, beginning with the eye-popping, you-are-there visual techniques that make you feel glad indeed that you’re not actually up there at 29,029 feet, but also including multiple characters sufficiently humanized to create real concern for their fates, and an attention to realistic detail that gives the film texture. Universal should be able to add this one to its impressive list of 2015 box-office successes.