“Everest” is a frustrating example of spectacle overtaking substance. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, from a script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, “Everest” has outstanding visuals and sound design but is undone by a convoluted, emotionally stilted script that doesn’t do its amazing (and tragic) source material justice.
Kormakur’s film is based on the true story of the 1996 Mount Everest expedition (consisting of three teams) that ended in disaster. Twelve people lost their lives when a massive blizzard trapped the teams as they attempted to reach the mountain’s summit and return to camp. The event remains one of the most devastating mountain expeditions in history and spawned numerous nonfiction books (most notably Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air”) and documentaries.
Unfortunately, this dramatized version doesn’t live up to that same level of remarkability.
Like a lot of biographical movies, “Everest” has too much going on without anything making a substantial impression. The emotional core is missing, and the picture’s attempts to juggle its 12-plus characters causes things to get convoluted and unfocused.
“Everest” gets especially convoluted when the blizzard hits. The film frantically jumps back and forth between the various basecamps and groups of stranded climbers dispersed around the mountain. The action in this section loses its sense of continuity, and the film becomes messy and disorienting. Characters suddenly go missing for extended periods of time.
What the filmmakers needed to do was condense. Instead of sloppily cramming all three large expedition groups into one movie, perhaps it could have focused on one small group. This would make for a more intimate movie space, allowing for better character development and better filmic coherence. By trying to focus on everyone, the movie mostly squanders any chance for emotional resonance.
“Everest” is pretty to look at, though: Kormakur and cinematographer Salvatore Totino make great use of the big screen format; the camera hovers up and over the titanic mountain, tracking the climbers like a curious bird.
The sound design is also tremendous. Between the blaring, piercing ferocious wind and the panting and coughing from the climbers as their bodies attempt to acclimatize to the mountain air, it can be overwhelming.
However, visual and aural pleasure can only take a movie so far and that moment eventually wore off. Ultimately, I left “Everest” feeling sad about the real-life incident but unmoved by the film itself. It clearly wanted to move me, with its grand sweeping shots of the mountain and Dario Marianelli’s thundering instrumental score. But the thinness of the characters and the convolutedness of the plot left me feeling cold.
The cast is loaded with talented individuals (Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, among others), but the script doesn’t allow any of them to stand out.
(Rated PG-13 for intense peril and disturbing images.)