Everest – The Movie, The Book
I am not the outdoorsy type. I’ll hike on occasion, but you’ll rarely find me camping, let alone mountaineering or mountain climbing. And yet, I’ve always been captivated by Everest.
My fascination began in 1980, when my father went to Nepal and hiked to Base Camp, at a time when relatively few were doing it. Then and now, getting to the base of Mt. Everest at 17,590 feet is no small achievement. He came back with stories of altitude sickness, a gentle and kind people, jaw-dropping photographs and a collection of elephants, knickknacks he’d purchased along the way. (On his second trip to Nepal in 1985 he came back with hepatitis but that’s another story.)
Photo: Vlado Matisic, Nepal
At 12 years old, I tried to understand the lure of the world’s highest peak. (8,848 metres or 29,029 ft.) To me it seemed, and still does, one of the most frightening places on earth and most definitely the last place you’ll ever find me.
Many years later this impression was intensified when on my father’s recommendation, I read John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a non-fiction account of the 1996-climbing season that killed eight climbers trying to descend from the summit. It was the deadliest time on the mountain until last year’s avalanche that killed 16 Nepalese guides near Base Camp.
From page one, I was hooked and it remains one of the most gripping stories I’ve ever read. Krakauer, a journalist for Outside Magazine, was covering the expedition (and made it to the top) and gives his first person account of the tragic events. If you haven’t read it, I can’t recommend it enough.
This weekend I went to see Everest the movie with my dad, the man who ignited my curiosity about this stark, harsh and unbelievably beautiful place. (Imax 3D no less. The place to see it.)
While the film, by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, covers the same ground, it is not based on Krakauer’ book. Krakauer himself is depicted in it and calls the movie “total bull,” likely in part due to his sometimes unflattering depiction. (Some of the fallout from the tragedy was centered on pointing fingers at who helped, or didn’t help, whom.)
Starring Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes and Josh Brolin – among many other familiar faces – the acting is good, especially considering much of the cast performed far from the comforts of their trailers.
While much of the higher elevation scenes had to be shot in studio, the climbing cast was filmed on the trek to Base Camp and in the Dolomites in Italy. Brolin apparently had to overcome a fear of heights in order to film. The cinematography focuses less on Everest’s majesty and more on the ice, snow, glaciers and crevases that make this mountain so inhospitable. Not surprisingly, one of the lead cameraman worked on Warren Miller’s ski films.
One shortcoming is that the movie doesn’t delve enough into why the tragedy occurred: by the 90s, climbing Everest had become big business and guides were often hauling people up, quite literally, who had no business being there. That matched with terrible storms lead to the loss of life that included some very experienced climbers.
But what the film lacks in depth it makes up for in action and suspense. I’m just glad I was experiencing mother nature at her harshest from the comfort of my cinema seat.
My book rating: A
My movie rating: B
For those interested in learning more about the status of climbing on Everest, check this article from Outside Magazine.
Top photo courtesy Mountains of Travel