by Sherif Awad
This week, the screening of the new film Everest brought many memories about climbing films like the classic adventure The Eiger Sanction (1995) starring Clint Eastwood, Cliffhanger (1993) starring Sylvester Stallone and Vertical Limit (2000) starring Chris O'Donnell. In these action films, the plot revolved around a lone hero facing a gang of criminals across the mountains that served as an unconventional setting for stunts, chases and claustrophobic landscapes. In Everest, there no villains or lone heroes but real-life characters who fell victim to their own obsessions.
Presented at the opening of Venice festival two weeks ago, the film tries to follow the autobiographical book by journalist and mountaineer Jon Krakauer who criticises this type of luxurious yet dangerous kind of tourism that put the lives of climbers in the most inappropriate places. Everest opens on Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the leader of New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants, and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), the highly experienced team leader of the Seattle-based Mountain Madness, who led their consecutive teams toward the highest summit of Everest. Kormakur shows us how the two teams had spent two months working on this task with their groups to overcome the lack of oxygen and the dangerous altitudes. However, when three of Hall’s climbers reached the summit that day, an unexpectedly violent storm blew without warning. As Hall tried in vain to assist the exhausted climber Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), he became unable to make the descent himself. On the other side, the high winds crippled the efforts of other exhausted rescuers, who were unable to find their way in the darkness. Help returned a few hours later. Very late in the night, Boukreev rescued the three remaining Mountain Madness clients from the storm. He grimly concluded that Hall’s clients, Weathers and Yasuko Namba, a Japanese climber who made her seventh out of the Seven Summits, were already too near death—nearly frozen and unable to crawl or speak. Also in the region at this time was Guy Cotter, another Adventure Consultants guide, who was running an expedition on the adjacent Mount Pumori. Cotter had been in radio contact with Hall throughout the summit day, and when the storm hit, he quickly recognized the dire, life-threatening situation. Cotter attempted in vain to arrange for Hall’s rescue, but two Sherpas climbing up toward Hall were exhausted and unable to continue.
Everest is directed by Baltasar Kormakur who is an Icelandic director with US credits including Contraband and 2 Guns, two action films in which Mark Wahlberg co-starred. In Everest, the challenge for Kormakur was to bring an entertaining freshness to a true story with already known melodramatic climaxes was the push the limit in the visual experience for the viewers watching his film at regular or IMAX cinemas. However, aforementioned films of the 1970s, 1990s and the new century had more exciting visuals due to the capabilities of both their directors and cinematographers before the era of extentive digital post-production. Despite some audio-visual shocks, the film does not quite deliver the edge-of-your-seat thrills necessary in such genre. After the film ended, I felt like watching a BBC or National Geographic Documentary with some re-enactment scenes.