Monday, 21 September 2015
Everest (4 Stars)
This film tells the story of the multiple expeditions to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1996. In the first few minutes we're told about the problems. In the past the mountain had been scaled by very few elite, highly skilled climbers. Now Everest had become commercialised. Different companies were offering tours to the top of Everest for people who may have been fit, by normal standards, but certainly weren't the elite climbers who should have been attempting such a dangerous ascent. At a price of $65,000 per customer it was good business.
The film focuses on the leaders of two tours, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, who decide to pool their efforts and lead their teams together, despite their different styles. Rob is a hand-holder, whereas Scott demands that his customers do as much as they can themselves, otherwise they don't deserve to be on Everest. We briefly see other teams at the beginning of the film. Rob especially is shocked by the crowds at Everest's Base Camp and predicts that they will be getting in one another's way.
Five people died trying to get back down from the peak. Five people shown in the film, that is. On the same day another three people died in another team not shown in the film. Was it worth it? Was it worth taking commercial tours to the top of the most dangerous mountain on Earth? It could be asked whether it's worth climbing Everest at all, but there will always be adventurers who put their lives at risk to achieve extraordinary feats.
The film is spectacular. The actors themselves tend to fade into the background. The film's real star is the mountain itself. Some scenes were shot on location, at Everest's Base Camp (5335 metres) and Camp 2 (6400 metres). Those are presumably the highest locations on the mountain accessible to normal people. The higher scenes were filmed in Pinewood Studios, England. The end result is breathtaking. This is also one of the few films I've seen in recent years that profits from 3D.
Despite the big publicity that the 1996 "Mount Everest Disaster" received, it's been pointed out, somewhat cynically, that it was a good year. Only 3% of the climbers who ascended higher than Base Camp died, compared with the previous yearly average of 3.3%. Was eight deaths in a single day exceptional? Not at all. For instance, on April 18th 2014, while the film was being made, 16 sherpa guides setting up equipment for the climbing season were killed in an avalanche. This never made the news. They were only poor local people, not rich westerners.