I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately about “based on a true story” films, but Everest is no different: some stories, as worth telling as they are, just don’t make the best movies. Taken as inspiration? Sure. But a truthful retelling just doesn’t quite work on the big screen as far as entertainment goes.
Everest actually started off strong: as we are introduced to the cast of climbers we are also introduced to the villain of the story, the mountain. We’re told of the dangers of attempting to climb to the peak, from altitude sickness to lungs filling up with liquid to hypothermia, and before I knew it I was having an anxiety attack. No, that’s not a figure of speech. I was legit going through the early stages of an anxiety attack as my stomach twisted, my body shivered as fire ants traveled through my veins, and my muscles constricted in my shoulders and neck. Just think about it: dying on Mt. Everest would suck. As my mind began to race as it searched the depthless crevasses the camera flew above, this is all I could think about. Boy was the movie getting the job done.
At least that’s what I would like to say. In reality my anxiety attack was probably brought on by the sudden storm raging in my temperamental stomach, a situation that has happened countless times before. Watching people vomit up the contents of their lungs isn’t the easiest thing to watch, nor is experiencing technology’s attempt to recreate vertigo through highly uncomfortable eyewear, but that’s about as exciting as Everest gets. In reality, the movie is just as much a constant march to a slow death as climbing the mountain was for these individuals.
I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, so instead I will speak ill of those who made the movie for not realizing in advance that it might just be impossible to tell this story visually. We spend a bit of time with the characters at first in an attempt to connect to them before this becomes a challenge later, but before I even fully understood who was who the puffy coats, goggles, scarves, and all the gear worn to ward off the cold came out, obscuring any identifying features that are needed to truly understand what these people are feeling. Everyone, but maybe one or two actors who really managed to perform and sell the struggle, seemed fine, but next thing you know some strong gusts of wind start kicking up snow and everyone is laying down defeated. I don’t know if it was the pacing of lack of visual cues that was the biggest culprit in my confusion, but more than anything it just seemed like people had decided to wait out the storm, when in actuality things were far worse and their bodies were shutting down. Next thing you know numerous people are dead.
As much as Rob Hall and the other climbers who lost their lives during this storm deserve to be remembered, a medium that is meant to entertain through a dramatic recreation just wasn’t the way to go in this case. So much is working against fully understanding who these people are and the struggles of their experience, and if the audience finds themselves asking “who’s that?” during the in memoriam section of the credits then the movie clearly didn’t do its job.