As Disaster Movies Go, Everest Aims High. More Important, It Reaches Its Summit.

Everest.
Director: Baltasar Kormakur.
Writer: William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy.
Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Michael Kelly, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Opens: Wide.

Seems that filmmakers always want their disaster movies to be bigger and more unrealistic than the previous one.

And, seriously, it's a problem. This summer's San Andreas, for instance, didn't even consider scientific logic for the majority of its set pieces.

So when the film Everest was marketed as a mountain-climbing disaster film, skepticism was bound to set it. Fortunately, director Baltasar Kormakur instead uses the film to prove that intense, thoughtful and very dramatic disaster films can still thrive. And how.

Kormakur's film is based on the true story of the 1996 Everest disaster in which the mountain claimed multiple lives during a two-day storm. Maybe you've read about it; there's been a ton of books published on this tale. The story they all tell is one of Everest becoming more commercial, with professional climbers going into the business of taking amateurs to the summit. One problem: Everest takes no prisoners. The mountain can turn on a dime. One minute, it's clear and the weather is inviting. The next, a storm rolls in and a blizzard stops your progress with its unpredictability.

What's remarkable about this film is how much the drama outweighs any huge set pieces. It keeps the focus on the men and women climbing this mountain, and their personal journeys. Even when someone dies, it's not overly dramatic with the score swelling as they take their last breath. No, this film doesn't dwell on the deaths. Sure, its characters are sad — but they realize that it's the reality of climbing a dangerous mountain. They take a moment to mourn the dead, and then they move on. Smartly, the film does the same.

It helps that the acting is solid from every person in this cast. Though the story mainly focuses on the leader of the expedition, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), it ends up being more of an ensemble. You care about everyone, and you really want everyone to make it to the summit and back down safely.

What's more gut-punching is this story is that it's based on true events. The movie doesn't sensationalize much because it didn't have to, and that makes what happens in it all the more compelling.

Give director Kormakur some credit. The guy knows how to build tension. He paints the Everest as this ominous, god-like entity that must be respected. In turn, the mountain almost becomes a character itself. The cinematography of it just happens to dazzle, too. Here, Everest looks so magnanimous, even as we all know just how deceiving looks can be.

It's not a tired disaster film, that's for sure. Everest will keeps you on the edge of your seat — because, interestingly, it stays focused on real, dynamic characters.

It's a remarkable film, and one you should absolutely see in its dizzying IMAX 3D presentation. Also, it's probably the best PSA for not attempting to climb Everest that you'll ever see.

Grade: A.

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