Review by C.J. Bunce
I am an avid follower of the many chronicles of the May 1996 disaster on Mount Everest. But it all comes down to the brilliant storytelling of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air that really sucked me in. So compelling, his account made me feel like I was having breathing issues reading his novel into the wee hours of the morning. Russian climber guide Anatoli Boukreev didn’t like Krakauer’s account, so he responded with his own, The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest. Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest documents Beck Weathers’ story. Each of these are worthy reads. Other accounts include Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy, by climber Lene Gammelgaard, After The Wind: 1996 Everest Tragedy–One Survivor’s Story, by Lou Kasischke, High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places, by David Breashears, and the Everest IMAX movie (filmmakers encountered the disaster climbers on their own climb and Brashears was instrumental in saving Beck Weathers). Krakauer’s story got a less than adequate treatment in the film Into Thin Air, starring Christopher McDonald. Which brings us to director Baltasar Kormákur’s 2015 theatrical release Everest, now available on streaming services and home video.
Fortunately Everest the movie is not a disaster. It gets the story right. The cast is nearly perfect. Yet it doesn’t match the thrills of the true-life adventure it adapts, and so a detailed critique is warranted. The screenwriters have pieced together all the key scenes and moments from the various firsthand accounts, sometimes picking and choosing so as not to adapt any single vantage point from another. Yet it skips over some key climax points that could have made the film so much better.
In a story where there are more males than females, why not highlight the two female climbers we do meet (played by Amy Shindler and Naoko Mori), instead of focusing on spouses (played by Keira Knightley and Robin Wright) whose only participation was a series of phone calls? In the two roles where women get plenty of screentime, Emily Watson and Elizabeth Debicki are left with recurring close-ups where they are supposed to show concern, yet they come off as emotionless. The actors were given little to work with. A directorial or screenwriter problem?
Part of the problem also is the missed opportunity for well-edited musical cues. Composer Dario Marianelli (V for Vendetta, I Capture the Castle) provides a score that is neither thrilling nor matches the emotion of the struggle and despairs depicted in the film. It’s a sweeping score but never prepares us for what is ahead and never lands where it should. But the music is secondary to the writing.