Anytime a movie is exclusively advertised and released as an IMAX 3D feature, it may feel like a fancy gimmick to get more people to seeing the movie. One might think that this high-tech form of movie-making is just something to distract people from the actual film’s lack of substance. While that may be true in some cases, Everest is not one of them.
The film is based on the true story of a group of climbers hiking up Mt. Everest between May 10 and May 11, 1996. It primarily follows climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a New Zealand native who has his own climbing company that has conquered Everest many times before. This time, he’s taking another group consisting of a cocky Texan (Josh Brolin), a down-on-his-luck mailman (John Hawkes), a Japanese woman looking to climb the final peak of Everest (Naoko Mori), a reporter for Outside magazine (Michael Kelly) and others. Little does Rob know that his enterprise has competition as his team is joined by another, more experienced team led by Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal). The team struggles to make it to the top; the forces of nature pound away at them as they try to survive at the same altitude of a 747 plane.
First things first: see this movie in IMAX 3D. This movie looks and sounds as big as it advertises itself, combining well-structured sets with gorgeous CGI backgrounds of the Everest mountains. The audience can see, hear and perhaps even feel the sharp wind and blistering cold hitting the climbers throughout their journey upward. The 3D is well-rendered, making sure the monstrous mountain nearly breaks out from the movie screen.
What’s more impressive is that amid all the technical glitz, there’s a beating heart at the center of the movie. This movie is about the ordinary trying to conquer the extraordinary, there’s no selected person reimagined as the shining hero of the group (since the story has its tragic moments). All the actors brace the weather and keep their humanity in front of the screen. After being trapped as a lifeless robot in Terminator Genisys, Jason Clarke redeems himself as the supportive and sincere Rob Hall. He has great chemistry with his fellow cast, especially in the brief phone calls with his pregnant wife (Keira Knightley playing for tears from the audience). In fact, everyone in the cast plays it with enough kindness and sincerity that it’s hard not to care about these characters. The one thing that’s off about the cast is Josh Brolin, who seemed to have a mean-spirited tone with all of his lines, like he was planning to sabotage the whole team. On top of that, the cast is mostly playing for sympathy. Sure it’s nice to have just a group of all nice characters to root for in a movie, but it feels like a cheap ploy to get more invested in their story. Perhaps the simplicity of the story is a positive and a negative: the audience is supposed to feel sorry for them because they all have inspirational/relatable stories. How ironic that the movie is shot in three dimension to cover for a one dimensional story.
Regardless, Everest is one of those rare movies where it’s a simple blockbuster that works really well. No explosions or randomly added characteristics, just an adventure that the audience gets to experience in a more immersive way. Maybe when this movie comes out in a regular format, it’ll appear to be less impressive. But since IMAX 3D is apparently where most major movies are headed, Everest is at least a blueprint of how to do it right.