In 1996, eight climbers lost their lives as they struggled to reach the top of the world's highest peak, Mount Everest. Baltasar Kormakur ("2 Guns") has turned their epic journey into the fall release "Everest," which has its world premiere Wednesday (Sept. 2) as the opening night attraction of this year's Venice film festival. This Universal release was shot on location in Nepal prior to the recent devastating earthquake. (Below, watch the gripping trailer for the 3D IMAX version due out Sept. 18.)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke play Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, rivals who lead separate teams of amateur climbers to the top. When an unexpected snowstorm strands them midway, the competitors are forced to come together to save as many of their teams as they can. Among these are people played by past Oscar nominees Josh Brolin and John Hawkes while Sam Worthington is expert Guy Cotter who warns of the perils ahead. And two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley is Clarke's partner, anxiously awaiting word back home.
Two years ago "Gravity," which also pitted people against the elements, began its ascent to the Oscars as the Venice opener. Reviewers were rapturous about that film, which won current Venice jury chair Alfonso Cuaron the Oscar for Best Direction. "Gravity" also prevailed in six other Oscar races. Among these were five categories — Cinematography, Film Editing, Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing — where "Everest" could be a strong contender. Its other win was for Visual Effects; "Everest" achieves much of its breathtaking look the old-fashioned way.
"Everest" lensing was by Salvatore Totino, best-known for his work with Ron Howard on such films as "Cinderella Man" and "The Da Vinci Code." BAFTA winner Mick Audsley ("The Snapper") edited the film. The score is by Oscar winner Dario Marianelli ("Atonement"). "Gravity" sound editor Glenn Fremantle does that duty here. And two of the "Gravity" Oscar-winning sound editors — Niv Adiri and Christopher Benstead — worked on "Everest" as well.
Below, a sampling of the first wave of reviews. After reading them and taking a look at the trailer, be sure to make your Oscar predictions for Best Picture at the bottom of this post using our easy drag-and-drop menu.
Justin Chang (Variety) observed: "This is a movie not about a few human beings who tried to conquer a mountain, but rather a mountain that took no notice of the human beings in its midst. Kormakur doesn’t make the mistake of exalting his subjects as extraordinary individuals, or suggesting that they were obeying some sort of noble higher calling. 'Everest' is blunt, businesslike and, as it begins its long march through the death zone, something of an achievement."
Pete Hammond (Deadline) noted: "The filmmakers have not turned this into a new-age disaster picture but rather emphasized the brave and courageous human element so inherent to the telling of this tale. Although there is plenty of action and thrills along the way, this tragic story is given life through the personal stories of these adventurers who took on the adventure of a lifetime. Some even made it to that inpenetrable peak, but it was the way back that proved fatal for many as weather conditions harshened to the point of catastrophe."
Todd McCarthy (THR) said: "While it's sometimes impossible to identify who's who under all the coasts, hoods, goggles and masks, director Baltasar Kormakur does a very good job, given the gusts of whooshing wind and blinding snow, of keeping the action coherent and involving; the consequences of over-exposure to the elements are made plainly and painfully evident. It is, in the end, as sad and tragic a film as the story warrants."
Eric Kohn (IndieWire) enthused: "Oscillating between expansive outdoor scenery and expressive closeups, 'Everest' maintains a clear-eyed cinematic depiction of dread. That tone has its limits, reaching overwhelming proportions as the body count rises and rescue missions go awry, but the movie remains an audiovisual marvel. The whooshing and crumbling effects go a long way toward enhancing the ongoing suspense unique to the setting, where fleeting lightheadedness or the loose rungs of a latter can mean sudden death (some of the tilting camerawork means viewers should be wary of dizzy spells). Eventually, the story finds its way to a tear-jerker finish enacted with sufficient restraint.
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap) cautioned: "It’s when 'Everest' stops trying to take our breath away and starts wanting us to care about the relationships between the characters that it falls short, with at least one major player getting an off-screen death that undercuts any emotion we might feel about it. This fine ensemble of actors works hard to make individual moments land, but once the wind whips up, each character gets lost in a blizzard and is reduced to the color of their protective gear."
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Photo: "Everest". Credit: REX