We’ve had some biopic films this year. We’ve had some disaster films this year. Now, Baltasar Kormakur, director of Cotraband and 2 Guns (the latter being a guilty pleasure of mine) has brought together both genres, for a disaster biopic, Everest.
Everest stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal and is directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Based on the real life 1996 Mount Everest climbing disaster, the film follows professional climbers Rob Hall (Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) as they team up with other climbers to reach the summit of Everest.
The cast list for the film is spectacular. Along with the four great actors that were mentioned above, the film also stars brilliant actors and actresses such as Emily Watson, Kiera Knightley, Sam Worthington and Robin Wright. It’s a very good cast list, and each actor and actress plays their part well. Clarke and Gyllenhaal have a great chemistry as competitors Hall and Fischer, with their conversations at base camp over who is the better climber or their ability to read each other’s mind to help each other out when trouble strikes on the mountain.
The cinematography is extraordinary. Credit to director of photography Salvatore Totino, who captures fantastic panoramic and aerial shots of the trek through the Nepalese countryside to the base camp at the foot of Everest. It’s a film much like Wild, it makes you want to go on a trek to see the beautiful sights that are captured in the film. However, it becomes quite apparent in the film when the climbers have started their ascent, that a lot for the shots are of soundstages or are CGI. While the cast and crew did go to the Himalayas, The Alps and the wilds of Iceland to shoot some scenes, in the second half of the film you can see the difference between the real landscapes and fabricated ones.
The deaths are handled very matter-of-factly. In a more conventional tick-the-boxes disaster film such as San Andreas, where deaths are signposted, Everest just let’s people slip off into the ether, one second they are there, the next they’re gone. It’s very tactfully done and hammers point the home of that it is a true story and not a fictional, Hollywood-style drama.
The music, by Dario Marianelli fits the films perfectly. Instead of using a usual symphony-style orchestra, the music is just one or two instruments at a time, switching from brass to strings and then to woodwind seamlessly. This effect of using less instruments is more effective and a lot more charming than if there was a bombastic soundtrack like usual disaster films. Rhythmic chanting and woodwind notes are used, symbolising the wind and monasteries that are littered throughout the film, and then the single violin or cello being the isolated climber. I’m listening to it right now while I’m writing this review and it’s still as moving as it was in the film.
The film does have some problems. At two hours the film does feel a little overlong, with the build-up and training for the ascent at base camp being the majority of the film, instead of the actual climb. Even while feeling overlong, the film also cuts together scenes that are meant to be hours apart (seen by the time counter in the bottom corner of the screen) meaning that certain scenes feel rushed and losing some of the momentum and sense of danger since it’s only been a few seconds of on-screen time since the stranded climbers last radio message. This might have been to deliver all the facts of the event, but it was still an odd choice to edit the film like this.
The film also does jump around several of the members of the climbing crew, and with most of their faces covered by oxygen masks or balaclavas, it sometimes hard to remember who everyone is. This, as well as the fact of the many loose ends in the film make the latter portion of the film sometimes very confusing to follow.
In summary, while Everest is sometimes a feast of the eyes and ears, it’s desire to stay factual means that the story doesn’t feel up to par. It’s one to watch if you’re a fan of the two novels that tell the story, or if you’re a fan of “Travel Cinema” (films that revel in the great outdoors).
Score: 6/10 A very competently made film, but not much more to it than that.