Everest ***

It's a jaw-dropping trek to the top of Mount Everest that should be seen on as large a screen as possible.

Is it worth $10? Yes

At the cost of thousands of dollars and a few weeks of suffering, for the rest of your life you can say you climbed to the top of Mount Everest. And for as proud as you would be of that accomplishment, you’d (probably) be unsatiated by people’s reactions of “wow, that’s cool!” before making it obvious they don’t actually think it’s as cool as you think they should think it is.

Regardless, amateur climbers following experienced guides is the basis for “Everest,” an effective action/adventure pic based on a true story that takes too long to get going but when it does, oh boy. The first 45 minutes of the two-hour movie is spent getting to know the climbers. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is the experienced guide who values safety first, and he’d better with his wife Jan (Keira Knightley) pregnant back home in New Zealand. Beck (Josh Brolin), Doug (John Hawkes) and Jon (Michael Kelly) are among the travellers in this May 1996 expedition, while Helen (Emily Watson) and Guy (Sam Worthington) keep an eye on them from afar.

The problem is there’s clutter on the mountain, as a number of groups travail the same access points to reach the summit, making the ropes and paths potentially unsafe. Rob’s group joins with his old friend/nemesis Scott (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the interest of safety in numbers, but even the best-laid plans can easily go awry.

All this exposition is tedious. Yes we need to get to know the characters so we care about them later when they’re in peril, but it’s too much of a good thing. Cutting 5-10 minutes of this chitchat would improve the pacing and make the film more engaging overall. Plus, the paying audience is most interested in what happens while climbing the mountain, so get to it already!

Once the climb begins “Everest” could’ve gone off track in any number of ways, but it doesn’t. People rarely make stupid decisions, and when they do it completely fits their personality, and usually is about doing anything necessary to make it to the top of the mountain. We’ve seen enough movies like this to know logic is often an afterthought, so to see it consistently applied throughout allows the film to feel more realistic.

Furthermore, there is no antagonist besides Everest itself. This is a smart decision by director Baltasar Kormakur (“Contraband”) and screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. You don’t need a person making things harder than they already are. Instead we get ice, bitter cold, extreme winds and terrible storms, which combined are more powerful and deadly than the worst villain in a superhero movie. Indeed, it’s repeated that the weather may be different higher on Everest than it is down below, which means even the best window of time to ascend is full of tremendous risk.

There comes a point in “Everest” in which the tension is palpable and you feel like you’re right there on the mountain with these brave, foolhardy souls (seeing the film in IMAX 3D is highly recommended). One moment you’re happy and proud of them, the next you fear for their lives. It all sets up an emotional rollercoaster, with stunning visuals and scenes that will leave you breathless in between scenes that’ll make you cry. It’s really quite something.

Did you know?
In reality, Rob’s wife Jan was the second New Zealand woman to climb Mt. Everest.

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