Touching the Void, 127 Hours – every now and again a climbing movie strikes awards gold. As recently as 2010, The Wildest Dream tackled Mt Everest, albeit in documentary form, and now cinema-goers are being offered the chance to scale the world’s tallest peak again in the comfort of their multiplex chair, this time with Everest from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (101 Reykjavik).
Following the events of a real-life climbing expedition on Mt Everest in 1996, we’re introduced to a diverse group of people who have all have paid a significant amount of money for the rare privilege of reaching the summit of Everest and ‘standing on top of the world’.
This narrative occurs at a boom-time when organised climbing expeditions were becoming incredibly popular and various companies were competing to offer the ultimate package. Heading up a formidable ensemble cast is Jason Clarke, a skilled actor despite being one of the lesser known cast members here, as expedition leader and climbing guru Rob Hall.
Its fellowship is king
The film is efficient in its development of a whole stable of relatable characters (some more successfully than others) that we crucially come to invest in prior to the devastation that sets in when a severe snowstorm hits the climbers’ descent during the second half of the film.
Other than Hall, the principal characters are Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal), another organiser in direct competition with Hall who employs a distinctly more laissez faire approach; Beck Weathers (Brolin), a monied, loud-mouthed Texan whose cocky self-assurance dissipates very quickly; and Doug Hansen (Hawkes – a phenomenal character actor best known for HBO’s Deadwood), a postman who we learn has been granted a considerable discount for the trip thanks to his close friendship with Hall.
They are surrounded by flawless support cast consisting of Emily Watson, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright and Michael Kelly. And even the uneven Kiera Knightly, who as Hall’s pregnant and perpetually worried wife is required to be on the phone for the entirety of the film, doesn’t phone in this performance.
At least the crevices are deep
Not since Robert Altman’s heyday has an ensemble cast of this magnitude been gathered together. While the names are not all huge box office draws, the combined acting talent alone should create a gravitational anomaly to send you tumbling into your local IMAX theatre.
On the downside, a cast so large means that our time with each character is somewhat limited – and while our initial engagement with the central characters pays off, the writers are never able to delve deeply enough with any particular one to ensure the experience will stay with you much beyond the running time.
Peaks if taken to the IMAX
Nevertheless, Everest is a visceral, emotional, immersive rollercoaster. It makes excellent justification of the 3D tech and you’d be mad to see this in any other format.
It is precisely what IMAX 3D was invented for – looking down a bottomless crevasse from the POV of a climber crossing a rickety aluminium ladder-cum-bridge will never be as stomach-turningly intense when viewed in 2D. In this respect, Everest excels.
The intensity is such that, instead of boosting business for guided mountain climbing tours, it will have most audiences hastily crossing Mt Everest off their bucket lists.