MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Everest’ meant to be seen on grand scale

The new Universal film "Everest," is now showing in 3D and 2D formats. Based not on one specific account of the ill-fated 1996 trek up Mount Everest, the story is a composite of numerous documents about the expedition. (Courtesy photo)

The new Universal film “Everest,” is now showing in 3D and 2D formats. Based not on one specific account of the ill-fated 1996 trek up Mount Everest, the story is a composite of numerous documents about the expedition. (Courtesy photo)

By TRAVIS ALADEN
Special to the News Advocate

When I was a poor college student, entertainment dollars were at a premium. But, I was a poor film school student, so I naturally loved going to movies.

I came up with a very unscientific way to determine what movies I would see in the theater, and it basically boiled down to this: If it looked like a film would lose a significant amount of its impact or appeal in the transition from the big to the small screen, then I had to see it in a theater — the way all movies are meant to be seen.

And I’ll tell you what — I’m so glad that my first experience of “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Matrix,” and “Gladiator” were in the theater. All of those films are grand in scale, epic in scope and have spectacular visuals. No matter how good they are, they naturally lose something when seen at home (yes, even if you have a 60-inch plasma).

Some of my favorite big films from the last couple years — “Gravity,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Interstellar” come to mind — admittedly lose something on home video format. It’s just not the same.

Enter the new Universal release “Everest,” now showing in 3D and 2D formats. The film is excellent, and is everything you’d want out of a big-screen “true-life” story about mountain climbers and the challenges that accompany scaling Earth’s tallest peak.

Based not on one specific account of the ill-fated 1996 trek up Mount Everest, the story is a composite of numerous documents about the expedition, including the best-selling “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, who is played by Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper from “House of Cards”).

The challenge to the screenwriters must have been daunting: flesh out a relatively large number of characters and set the stage for the who-what-when-where-why of the story without spending two hours on exposition. In this the writers (Justin Isbell and Lem Dobbs) were definitely successful. I cared about the characters, even if I didn’t fully understand their motivations.

Jason Clarke plays the film’s main protagonist, Rob Hall, an accomplished climber who pioneered the “we’ll help you climb Everest for hire” business. I’m not usually a big fan of Clarke, but here he plays a soft-spoken but highly respected leader who deeply cares about each of his clients. His relationship with Doug Hansen — a client who didn’t make it to the summit the previous year — is particularly layered and nuanced. And that dynamic certainly comes into play later in the film.

One scene — a quiet discussion that takes place before the final epic summit begins — is where Krakauer, who is climbing in order to write an article for Outside Magazine — asks the various climbers the million-dollar question: “Why do you do it”?

As someone who personally has zero desire to try a feat like that, I also found myself wanting to know their answers to that question. I won’t spoil anything here, but let’s just say that the answers (or lack thereof) from the group was surprising yet satisfying to me.

The great cast is rounded out by Josh Brolin, Kiera Knightly, an excellent Emily Watson and others.

My only bone to pick is that I would have liked to see Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright utilized more to their full potential.

The true headlining star of “Everest” however, is the mountain itself. Unapologetic in its dichotomy beauty and sinister deadliness, the central conflict of “Man vs. Nature” is front and center in the second half of the film. This is where the picture, and the direction from Iceland native Baltasar Kormákur really shines.

The incredibly challenging task of successfully conveying what is simultaneously happening to multiple groups of climbers, all on different parts of the mountain, plus base camp and family back home, is accomplished via expert cross-cutting without spoonfeeding the audience.

The visuals of “Everest” are all completely convincing. Not a single frame appears to be computer-generated or shot on a stage with a green-screen. Everything happens ON THE MOUNTAIN, or at least it completely looks and feels that way. The danger feels real because the setting feels real. It is also unsentimental.

During the massive storm that beats the climbers to a pulp on the face of the mountain, if someone falls, they simply are gone. It’s ominous and it stays with you.

I’m a believer in 3D cinema technology, but I also feel that not all 3D is created equal. The use of 3D in “Everest” is not the gimmicky kind of 3D from years past, but is a fantastic use of the medium in order to add realism and even further envelope the viewer in what is happening on-screen. It’s atmospheric 3D in the best sense of the term. For anyone who has been hesitant to give 3D movies a try, this is a great film to start out with.

So much about “Everest” is big: the mountain, the challenge, some of the characters’ egos and the losses.

Much like the titles I mentioned earlier, a big film like this will certainly lose something if seen on your TV. It screams to be seen as big as possible. As Patrick Dunn of The Detroit News said: “’Everest’ is a truly spectacular experience that deserves to be seen on the grandest scale possible.”

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