There’s a few problems with Everest but the visuals aren’t one of them- it certainly looks spectacular, with huge vistas giving it an impressive scope and convincingly portraying both the bewitching beauty and terrible dangers of climbing the mountain. In 3D some of the shots are rather vertigo-inducing, but I would imagine the film will function perfectly fine in 2D- there must have been lots of visual effects utilised but the film seems thankfully restrained regards the CGI shots. Sadly, where it falters is the script. It seems so hellbent on an almost docudrama approach of depicting the fateful events (the film is based on a true story) that it somehow, in that very earnestness, loses the characters within it. Indeed this loss of the characters is even literal during the later stages of the film where faces are hidden behind goggles and breathing masks- its very hard to distinguish between some of them- the confusion of who is who behind all that winter gear rather dilutes any tension.
I had my doubts when I saw the cast. The film seemingly tries to compensate for the slim characterisation by casting big-name actors in the roles, as if their on-screen personas will suffice instead. Alas that just makes the characters seem even more lightweight with the fine cast largely wasted and not given enough to really chew on. Do the minor supporting roles of two wives stuck back home need to be played by Keira Knightley and Robin Wright? Does an actress of Emily Watson’s stature need to be saddled with the thankless task of playing part of the support team anguishing fruitlessly at base camp? The casting rather hurts the film in my eyes, magnifying the importance of the film with its rather A-list cast (Jason Clarke on admittedly very fine form, Sam Worthington, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin) when the film can’t really deliver. What should have been a very dramatic and powerful movie finally turns out to be rather routine and mundane. Perhaps too much attention was paid to the production difficulties of the visuals etc at the expense of the script.
I think the film needed focus- it needed to be ruthlessly centered on perhaps one individual. It so faithfully depicts the events of that ill-fated climb and all the characters within the film, while being respectful to both the people who died and those that survived, that it lacks perspective. It must be remembered that this isn’t simply a case of innocent people being plunged into tragedy and disaster- these people each paid tens of thousands of dollars to put their lives at risk. Things went wrong for them but it remains a stumbling block in gaining audience empathy that they put themselves in harms way. The film even stumbles into literally asking them the question regards why they risk life and limb to climb Everest (the inevitable “because its there!” seems a knowingly trite response) but it never really makes us care about them. I think if the film focused on just one of the climbers, and we could fully empathise with that person, maybe that would transfer to the others. Instead screentime is spent getting to ‘know’ several of the group and while its perhaps a noble gesture it ultimately ill-serves them all. We never really get a sense of what makes someone need to make that climb, to risk their lives when they have families and responsibilities back home. It literally asks the question ‘why’ but never delivers a satisfying response.
Unless the ‘why’ is about making money. How valid or defensible is a commercial business that is predicated on taking people on such a dangerous expedition, where does financial gain outweigh the danger or risk? It is hinted at during the film that the company leading the expedition is under pressure to have a successful climb to ensure future custom, but it never delves deeper than a general comment. Were decisions made in error due to goodwill and blind optimism or were they weighed by the financial implications of an unsuccessful climb? The film has no point of view, it simply depicts the events without any commentary. Maybe that’s unfair, the film clearly has no interest in being controversial but I would imagine if this were an Oliver Stone movie it would have a thing or two to say while showing us the tragedy unfold..