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Sep 262015
 
Everest April 6 2015

If you want to climb Mt. Everest, s take two hours to see the new Hollywood version of the 1996 disaster, but don’t take your spouse – you won’t be allowed to go!

Everest has been hyped for several months now as “based on true story” yet not following any specific book or version of what happened. The movie is often said to follow Jon Krakauer seller ”Into Thin Air” but that is not true.

In fact Krakauer recently said about the entire movie in an interview, case “It’s total bull”

Watching with an Experienced Eye

I was eager to see the film as I have a deep relationship with the mountain after four climbs including one summit. I know what it is like to be trapped in harsh weather, to turn around when you are so close to the summit, to be so exhausted that taking one step further seems impossible, to see conflict between teammates, guides and Sherpas. Everest has all this and more.

In 2002, I made my first attempt on Mt. Everest with Adventure Consultants. Guy Cotter lead the trip and Ang Dorge Sherpa was our climbing Sidar. One of the 1996 members, John Taske, was on our team.

We talked about that day, what happened from their viewpoint, but they were cautious with their comments, respectful of their lost teammates and now determined to apply lessons learned to a new generation of Mt. Everest climbers.

I watched the movie primarily with an eye towards authenticity, not accuracy. By now, there have been multiple accounts of what happened on May 10, 1996. Recently, the families of the d climbers have come out to give their version.

I have no idea what really happened that day, but the big picture is fairly clear: competition amongst guides, ambition by climbers, ignoring weather forecasts all conspired towards a deadly confluence of events that took eight lives that day.

Cinematography at it’s Finest

I was curious how the mountain itself would be portrayed. 15 years in the making, technology had come a long way with lightweight cameras, green screens, CGI and more clever techniques that often take the movie goer to far away places with never a shot taken in that location.

Everest was none of that. Many of the film’s scenes were taken on Mt. Everest itself by David Breashears and others. Breashears was there in 1996 and made the award winning IMAX film that introduced millions to what happened that day and to Mt. Everest

Many of the close up scenes were shot in the Dolomites in Northern Italy. And a full sound stage was used to recreate some of the camp scenes. And, yes, there were some computer generated scenes.

*** This review covers the entire movie, if you don’t know the story and want to be surprised, stop here. ***

Opening with Reality

The movie opens in New Zealand with the Rob Hall character preparing to leave his pregnant wife on another commercial Mt. Everest expedition. He proudly mentions that he got Jon Krakauer to join his team as a reporter from Outside magazine. His main commercial competition, Mountain Madness, thought Krakauer was going to join his team; thus the competition is set for who can become the premier Mt. Everest guiding company.

We quickly see the team assembled in Kathmandu. Familiar scenes of Thamel and strangers meeting for the first time are well done. The Beck Weathers character is introduced with arrogance as he taunts Doug Hansen, the “mailman” who was turned back in 1995 at the South Summit by Rob Hall.

We see the team trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp with only a few scenes of that amazing trek including the swinging bridges over the Dudh Kosi, walking the stone streets of Namche Bazaar and famous views of Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam.

I particularly liked one scene where Weathers is panting for breath while walking up stone steps in Namche, as a bunch of kids running by with ease. Another scene has yaks slowly walking by, covered with snow, their bells ringing. This brought back memories for me.

They nailed this experience giving me encouragement that Hollywood was under control.

Creative License

The movie shifts to Mt. Everest Base Camp where we meet the Adventure Consultants Base Camp Manager, Helen Wilton. In my opinion, she comes off as the glue that holds the movie together.

One scene that has been criticized by viewers for lack of depth was when Krakauer asked his fellow teammates the key question of “Why”. He is quickly dissed by Weathers with the quip “because it is there” but others join in to express their views.

The Doug Hansen character does a great service to all Mt. Everest climbers with his answer. He speaks of dreams, of emotions, of purpose. He talks about a school that gave him some much needed funding to make his return trip and that he wanted to summit for them, and for himself. Of all the characters, Hansen came off genuine to me.

Hall and Fischer have a bit of a tiff over who will lead on the mountain and Krakauer’s involvement. Fisher is portrayed as a true climber with a hippie attitude while Hall comes off as all business. Both men are shown as ambitious, single-minded and competitive.

Silly Scenes

I really don’t have a lot of criticism of the movie but like the promotional trailer, the next few scenes wreaked of Hollywood and flirted with Vertical Limit style exaggeration.

As the climbers are going through Khumbu Icefall, Beck Weathers is on a long ladder. A serac release near him causing him to loose his balance and nearly fall off the ladder. With a nod to another silly climbing movie, Cliff Hanger, Weathers fumbles to stay on the ladder while Hall goes out to rescue him. All in all, quite dramatic and overdone.

Next up to demonstrate to the viewers that Mt. Everest is dangerous is a contrived scene on the Lhotse Face where an avalanche occurs striking the guides. Once again, Hall comes to the rescue self arresting with his ice axe and saving Andy “Herald” Harris from falling further. He hugs Harris and tells him not to do that again.

OK, so I understand they need to make it dramatic to keep the audience’s attention but there is enough real drama to come that these were unnecessary.

Details

The overall series of acclimatization rotations are glossed over, rightfully so, as some critical details of why May 10th became tragic are revealed.

Hall, the businessman guide, begins to understand that every team is targeting May 10 for the summit. He is shown visiting the other teams from Mountain Madness to Ian Woodall’s South African Team and Makalu Gau from Taiwan.

The guides seem unconvinced they should work together to fix ropes and break trail to the summit. The Sherpas are presented as combative and uncooperative, one of the few scenes that involve the sherpas at all in this movie, a short coming in my mind. Anatoli Boukreev refuses to use supplemental oxygen stating proudly that he never uses it.

This scene suggests the people who were running Mt. Everest that year lacked the insight that as Mt. Everest became more crowded, cooperation amongst the guides was required. Today, guides regularly coordinate work but that lack of cooperation stills permeates the high altitude climbing scene.

Another key detail was when a typhoon developing off the India coast threatened to bring strong winds and heavy snow to Mt. Everest around May 11, the day after the proposed summit. Hall is shown being told about the threat and ignoring it.

One scene I thought was very well done was when the teams are at the South Col. The wind is howling and everyone is in their tents wondering if the weather will pass and they will get their chance for the summit.

True to my experience on the South Col four times, the movie has the wind abruptly stop. Hall walks out seeing stars and calls out to his team to get ready to leave in half an hour. Again, spot on.

Moving On

Up to this point in Everest, I thought the movie was dragging a bit with unnecessary scenes, hyperbole and contrived drama. There are so many characters that it is difficult to keep up with who they are, further complicated as they are shown in down suits with hoods, moving slowly in snowy scenes. I began to forget about individual characters and focus on the big picture.

To be fair, if they had shown the reality of climbing at 7000 and 8000 meters, the climbers wound have had full oxygen mask on with goggles or sunglasses. But we would not have been able to hear the dialog or see their expressions. So a bit of Hollywood is OK.

Climbing

As the climbers leave the South Col, the movie picks ups and the real drama begin to unfold. The climbing scenes are sensational. The view of people climbing just above the Balcony on the unexpectedly steep slopes of the Southeast Ridge are extremely well done.

The pace of the climbers seemed about right, perhaps a bit fast. The dialog pace was good but not fully authentic as it’s difficult to compete a full sentence without taking a breath at those altitudes.

But more to the point, you can see how May 10 began to fall apart.

Climbers from Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness are all over the mountain. Rob Hall is doing his to keep things moving. Scott Fischer is way behind loosing a day to take a member back to base camp but then rushing to catch up. He is shown injecting the steroid Dexamethasone as he pushes himself.

A critical moment in the movie comes as climbers reach the traverse between the South Summit and the Hillary Step. They find there is no fixed rope and no one has any rope with them. A breakdown in guide cooperation.

The climbers are shown bunching up waiting for the route to be fixed. Eventually, rope shows up and Boukreev is shown as superhuman fixing the route and leading the way. The Sherpas’s role is diminished in this Hollywood version.

The Scene

Many viewers and followers of the 1996 epic cite the conversations between Rob Hall and his wife Jan where they gently discuss their unborn daughter and what they should name her as one of the most poignant moments.

There are actually two scenes in Everest documenting this exchange. But the scene in Everest with Doug Hansen fighting to summit stood out to me, perhaps because it was close to my own experiences.

Several climbers finally join Boukreev on the summit, there are hugs, smiles, tears – all 100% authentic – as the camera pans the unparalleled view from the top of the world.

In another key scene, Adventure Consultant’s guide Guy Cotter, climbing on Pumori senses an unfolding tragedy. He calls Helen Wilton at base camp to check on their progress and simply says they are too late and need to get down now.

But Adventure Consultant’s member, Doug Hansen is struggling. He has been shown to have problems acclimatizing throughout the climb (and the film) so it’s not a surprise.

He is alone just above the Hillary Step as Rob Hall meets him. Hall tells him he must turn around, it is way past their 2:00 pm turn-around time. With masks and goggles off, we can see the torture in these men’s eyes.

Hansen begs Hall to let him keep going. Hall express his sorrow but insists he must turn back now as Hansen is exhausted and running out of oxygen. Hansen doesn’t listen.

The next five seconds of these two men looking into one another’s eyes at 29,000 feet, just minutes below the summit and Hansen’s dream falling apart, is the movie for me.

Hall relents and walks side by side as Hansen stumbles his way to the top of the world. Once there, they embrace and celebrate Hansen’s dream but the joy is short lived.

From this point on the movie carefully goes through their descent, their struggles and tragedy. We see the other climbers fighting for their own lives as a storm now moves up valley and hits the high slopes of Mt. Everest with a vengeance.

The actors, and movie makers do an extraordinarily good performance of showing the utter physical exhaustion, the fight to live, the turmoil, lack of organization and leadership as the two guides are fighting for their own lives.

For 15 minutes we are taken on the highest climbing route on earth and see how a tragedy unfolds with no way to stop it.

Wrapping up Loose Ends

Towards the end, the movie rushes to fill in the gaps of the lost or dead climbers. The primary focus is on Hansen and Hall near the South Summit. Hall is shown in an emotional scene talking to his wife for the last time.

Hansen is stumbling like a drunk, out of oxygen. He is literally fighting a loosing battle for his life. Andy Harris is shown going through oxygen bottles in a confused state. Weathers is shown waiting at the Balcony for Hall to return working hard to make his eyes focus. He eventually moves lower with the rest of the team.

The members are moving down towards the South Col but the storm is now fierce, blocking all visibility. Within a football field of the protection of tents, water and oxygen, they stop, lost in the clouds. One by one we see them fade away.

The Adventure Consultants base camp team are shown torn by what is going on the mountain, Guy Cotter imploring his friend to move. Helen Wilton does everything she can keep a tragedy from unfolding. This is an emotionally charged scene of what was going on behind the scenes and well done.

Boukreev’s role in saving three lives is short changed. He fights through the storm, eventually reaching Scott Fischer, now dead halfway between the Balcony and the South Col. Boukreev simply puts Fischer’s pack over his face.

Of course, Weathers amazing come back from death highlights the end of the film. His family back home works the phone to the US Embassy in Nepal for a helicopter rescue.

He is shown walking into Camp 4 at the South Col, then taken by helicopter, flown by Nepali Army Lt. Col. Madan Khatri Chhetri. from Camp 1 and finally back home with his wife Peach.

Bottom Line

Everest shows what climbing Mt. Everest is all about. The cinematography is outstanding, the acting sufficient and the story telling entertaining, albeit a bit thin.

The actual climbing scenes are second to none as are the views of Mt. Everest, the Khumbu and Nepal.

Is the movie an accurate account what happened and why? I don’t know but there was nothing that felt totally out of line.

Per Krakauer’s protest that he was inaccurately portrayed as selfish and unwilling to give aid to others, only he knows for sure. But he needs to get in line with everyone else who feels a movie, or a book, made for entertainment could misrepresent another person’s own experience.

Two people should get credit for all the positive reviews of Everest: David Breashears and Guy Cotter. Breashears, the film’s coproducer, own experience in making several movies about the 1996 events proved valuable in making this high budget film. His obsessive attention to details kept the film on track.

Cotter, serving as the film’s Key Alpine Advisor, kept the film makers honest. Cotter was there in 1996, not the director, producer or actors. He filled in the gaps between Hollywood and reality.

For me, Everest represents film making at a high standard. It feels authentic, it evokes raw emotions, it takes us to a place few go  – both physically and emotionally.

I woke the morning after seeing the film feeling as if I had just returned from my own summit of Mt. Everest in 2011, I was exhausted.

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything

  22 Responses to “Movie Review: Everest – As Close to Being There Yourself”

  1.  

    I applaud Working Title for breaking new ground and not sticking to the ‘Into Thin Air’ version of the 1996 Everest tragedy, which is maybe why this book is not in this film’s Credits, something that has not gone unnoticed by some professional reviewers.

    Working Title/the Director referred to Jon Krakauer as ‘a writer who just happened to be on the mountain at the time’. To learn more about what actually caused this seminal event you will need to read ‘A Day to Die For’ and ‘After the Wind’. Well done Working Title and Baltasar Kormakur for daring to break the mold!

    •  

      Peter, I agree. In multiple interviews, Kormakur made it clear he did not base the movie on Krakauer’s book even though many, including professional reviewers, assumed it was, incorrectly. This was a good interview with this quote: “We didn’t follow Krakauer’s book at all. I read it, obviously; I read everything I could. “

  2.  

    Just seen the film. Having read numerous reports of those fateful days, I thought it was fairly accurate. But there were so many other stories and things going on with many of the climbers that it could have been a 3 or 4 hour film – great for me but commercially I guess that was not going to work. I wanted more of the characters to come through. Some really good acting, not enough focus on the Sherpas brave actions though or their characters. The real star of the film is in the title. Stunning photography and scenery showing us that the Mountain itself is in charge and how conditions can change so very quickly. That was shown in this film very well. The storm was truly frightening.

  3.  

    I have no love for Outside magazine given their propensity for tabloid-style agenda politicking. I find it profoundly ironic that Krakauer’s very presence seems to have had some influence the very behaviors that contributed to the tragedy. It’s like the Observer Effect in physics where the event being observed is changed by the fact that it’s being observed. I don’t fault the man for getting paid for his book, but if he were really so outraged by Everest (the mountain and it’s climbers,) then perhaps he ought to donate his millions in royalties to an appropriate charity. I certainly have no right to diminish his experience but I do take issue with his almost constant pontification on the subject. What would Scott and Rob think? Mistakes yes, but would they climb again? Without a doubt. I’ve climbed on an AC trip in the Alps and they, along with the majority of the professional outfits do treat the mountains with the respect they deserve. Without companies such as AC, Madness, Junkies, etc., many would not have the opportunity to appreciate the grandeur of the mountains, nor the beauty of exploration. During the Nepal earthquake, how many climbers or aspiring climbers open their wallets to help the Nepalese? How many families have been lifted out of poverty because of climbing? Outside sells clicks and magazines by creating controversy, especially with regard to expedition mountaineering yet they seem content to venerate participants of the sports they “like.” I will go out on a limb by suggesting that the only high altitude activity ever experienced Outside editors has been in a 737. Krakauer is certainly entitled to his opinion, but he does not have the right to vilify people that have just as much right to be on that mountain as he did. His status as a journalist doesn’t exempt him from hypocrisy. He profited from Everest probably more than anyone else. I consider Scott and Hall heros. Everest is still a hero’s mountain. The people that have been lucky enough to climb it remind us all of the incredible possibilities of the human race. Climb on!

    •  

      So it was all Krakauers’s fault?

      Krakauer didn’t know that there would be a storm. He didn’t know there would be a disaster. He didn’t know that so many would perish. He didn’t know he would write a book about it.

      He thought he would write an article for his magazine and move on to his next story.

      Your outrage should not be directed at things that happened after 1996 (like profiting from a book). It should perhaps be directed at people or events that happened beforehand that made 1996 possible.

  4.  

    ” but don’t take your spouse – you won’t be allowed to go!”

    Yeah, Alan. You’ve met my spouse. Leave sexist comment out of your blog. I think probably majority of your readers are like me and Gineth. Don’t pander to the masses dude. No reason to make remarks like this. A real Everest husband knows he could never do what his genetically gifted wife can do There is no reason to grind it into our soul. I love Gineth and I live climbing. No reason to pander to the masses. They aren’t reading your posts

    •  

      Whoa buddy, lighten up … it’s a little humor .. but the reality is that seeing this movie will bring home the realities of what can happen on big climbs. Nothing “sexists” or pandering about that. Michael, you know as well as I that it is often toughest on those at home when a loved one is climbing.

    •  

      Just a point of clarification, “spouse” is a gender neutral term. Alan is completely right, if your friends and family knew what it’s like to be near death at 8500m, they certainly wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about watching us leave on an expedition.

    •  

      I would like to submit this comment into the ‘Worst Comments of 2015 across the whole internet’ competition. I think it’s a winner.

      Alan remarks that a partner would be concerned after watching this which is exactly right! I won’t be taking my wife as I plan to go back and need to focus on positive things not negative things.

      I think you’re the sexist one is you assuming spouse means women and maybe with a few marital issues having to tell the internet how your relationship at home is.

      Booo!

    •  

      To defend Alan,

      I’m expecting to climb Everest in 2017, and I clearly made the mistake of brining my spouse… Alan is right, now she doesn’t want me to go anymore. She knew all about it, she read multiple books about Everest, we see mountain movies all the time but this one was too much for, specially that we are talking about having a baby. She’s very supportive of all my climbing but she didn’t feel right about the movie for almost 2 days knowing that this could happen to me… it’s important to talk about spouses in a subject like Everest as climbing the highest mountain in the world requires a lot of sacrifices, understanding and support.

  5.  

    Cinematography was best. But again as all western movie are i found it similar too. I kinda felt the movie escalated little too quick. Saw some potraits of arrogant members. Dont know much abiut the real incident but as a viewer and fellow sherpa people i didnot feel the actual everest. It potraits the bravery of the western members.

    •  

      Pemba, I also thought the Sherpas should have had a larger role in the movie, but the movie titled Sherpa highlighting Phurba Tashi should be excellent.

      •  

        Yea. And most people would think it as a real basecamp and all but to see western beers in basecamp was a funny th8ng for me. Yeha and i think we get to get some real insight in sherpa movie.

  6.  

    I also saw the movie and thought like you did Alan and having been to Nepal four times and in Nepal exactly one year after the Tragedy, i really enjoyed your review of the movie some of the faults or shortcomings of the film that you sited were the same as some of the ones i talked with my friends i thought the film portrayed Scott Fisher as a bit of a free spirit and the character of him and the Russian Anatoli were just supporting roles even though they were big players in the tragedy.
    Just my opinion hope to hear your response

    •  

      Thanks Bruce. According to interviews with the Director, he chose to focus on a few characters instead of many thus Fisher’s and Anatoli roles were reduced. I think they focused on Rob Hall more given his conversation with his wife and Doug Hansen, etc. – more drama. In the end this was a Hollywood movie and not a documentary but I agree that by eliminating some of the “danger” scenes they could have done a bit more in developing other characters.

  7.  

    Very excellent review. I had pretty high confidence when I saw David Breshears as a significant part of the movie that it would be good. Sure felt like we were there. I really liked the fact the at the scenery shots were so authentic. I did not know about Guy Cotter but now I do!
    Thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful review.

  8.  

    Wonderful review Alan, I saw the film at a preview screening and thoroughly enjoyed it.
    One thing that stood out in my mind, a question more so, is do you know what happened to the full oxygen bottles stashed for the descent that were empty when they were needed? Or was that just an added drama?

    Love your blog
    Sital
    From Australia

  9.  

    See, here’s where my obsession with your Everest coverage caused me to have issues with this film. There was far too little of the trek in through the Khumbu. I felt they missed an opportunity here to show the beauty of the region offset by the dangers of the mountain. I agree with you about the vast assortment of characters. The only reason I could keep up with them is because I have read and/or watched everything ever done on this tragedy. I feel like a person who had not done that will just be lost among the climbers and struggle to keep up. Because I have followed you, and other climbers, for so many years…I felt the filmmakers did not do a good job portraying the suffering that happens up high, even in good weather. Also unrealistic were the many scenes where climbers had their goggles and masks off, but like you said, there could have been no dialog if they had kept them on. The final ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ scene for me was when the helicopter lifted off carrying Beck down the valley, and then they panned back to his fellow climbers and they showed Sandy Hill Pittman looking like she had just stepped out of her 5th Ave apartment. The scenery was spectacular in 3D, and the storyline of Rob and his wife was very touching. Otherwise I felt it was way too much Hollywood, and not nearly enough Nepal…just my opinion. Your coverage of the reality on the mountain leaves everything else feeling fake.

    Ginger

    •  

      Thanks Ginger. Sorry I ruined the movie for you with my own experiences 🙂 🙂 (kidding)

      Yes, I wish they had given more time to the trek, but the movie was all focused on the summit drama, as you well know.

      I think it’s a shame that Sandy is continued to be portrayed in such a negative manner. Seems more than unfair to me. Prior to Everest she had climbed 6 of the 7 Summits plus other peaks so she was no novice. Seeing her posting updates from base camp reminded me of me 🙂

  10.  

    Excellent review, Alan – I just saw it and share virtually all of your sentiments (nothing worth picking a nit about) –

    One comment to add clarification to the authenticity you mention – in addition to Guy Cotter’s presence in ’96 and his participation in the film-making David Breashears was also on the mountain in ’96, and was accurately portrayed as both providing the struggling teams on the South Col with EVERYTHING that they needed to facilitate rescue efforts (batteries, O2, whatever) and David, as well as Ed Veisturs, immediately struck out from basecamp for the South Col as the tragedy was unfolding, and they brought Weathers down to the Western Cwm (don’t remember if is was camp 2 or Camp 1) where the courageous and skillful Nepali Helicopter Pilot plucked Weathers (and, moments later, Makalu Gao) off the mountain.

    •  

      Thanks George, yes I mentioned Breashears along with Cotter. I tried to review the movie, not all the events that transpired that day but yes, lot’s of unsung heroes that no doubt saved many lives.