| art & architecture | books & cds | dance
| destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
... Everest (1998)
The IMAX spectacle Everest, presented on a screen eight
stories high and one hundred feet wide, is magnificent entertainment. You feel like the
filmmakers have brought you directly onto that fabled mountain, the tallest peak on the
face of the planet. Your oxygen is depleted. Your body aches. You wonder how you're ever
going to summon the energy to take your next step. Spectacular and terrifying at the same
time, the film chronicles a feat of physical endurance that by all rights ought to be
beyond the scope of human endeavor.
But just below the
technically masterful surface lurks an arrogance that is unsettling. Watching Everest is
a bit like watching news video of NATO bombers. You cannot deny the efficiency with which
they perform their task, but you also find yourself asking what the hell are they doing
this for? Why should we care whether Araceli Segarra becomes the first Spanish
woman to ascend to the summit, or if Ed Viesturs makes it to the top for the fifth time?
And if unfortunate New Zealander Rob Hall dies on the attempt, as he most certainly does,
should the movie repeatedly mourn without comment the fact that his wife is seven months
pregnant, or shouldn't somebody at least pose the obvious question: why was this man
climbing this mountain at such a time?
Mt. Everest is a lot more physical than anything else you could ever do. This is not
just a triathlon in Maui: it is the ultimate in X-treme Sports. 150 climbers have perished
in the attempt. We are shown the climb's three most treacherous spots: the Ice Fall, a
river of ice 500 feet thick that can break into pieces at a moment's notice, crushing
anyone nearby; the Lho Tse Face: 4,000 vertical feet of ice where if you fall out of
control you will roll downhill for a solid mile and then plummet into a bottomless
crevasse; and the Death Climb: the 12-hour pull to the summit with your mind dulled and
your body in agony for lack of oxygen. You have to start the ascent at midnight so you can
get to the summit, take a picture, then hurry back down to High Camp before the sun goes
down that night. Perhaps the most unforgettable shot of the film is one of the four
climbers climbing sheer ice in total darkness except for the lanterns on their heads.
But this is not
life, it's a film of life. So also climbing the mountain were a director and a camera
crew, carrying an enormous oversized IMAX camera. They, too, endured every privation and
more, but only passing mention is made of them. Clearly this film is meant to be a tribute
to Ed Viesturs, Araceli Segarra, and the Sherpa Jamling Tenzing Norgay, whose father
accompanied fabled Englishman Sir Edmund Hillary in the first Everest ascent, in 1953. Everest
suffers for its lack of greater inclusion of the entire team.
Two more quibbles:
the music and the narration. The music, by Steve Wood and Daniel May, reflects the
filmmaker's attitude. Instead of the brilliant classical score in the companion IMAX
feature Into The Deep which allows us to reflect on the majesty on the screen
before us, Everest gives us Star Wars: The Phantom Mountain. French
horns, trumpets and military cadenzas fly forth as each snow ax carves a path into each
icy mountain face. It is intrusive and unnecessary. The narration, by Liam Neeson, bursts
through the top of the Cliche-o-Meter. Each time he utters jewels like "Many have
died there, on the mountain known as Everest," or "Nepalis from Kathmandu know
you must treat the mountain with respect," you grit your teeth.
The ascent of
Everest is so remarkable, and the filming of that ascent so equally amazing, that it is a
shame to feel anything less than enthusiastic about this film. By all means go see it, it
is worth the price of admission just for the enormous IMAX visual spectacle before you.
The view from the top is indeed remarkable, and the fact that humans are capable of such
an accomplishment will make you proud to be one.
is not the symphony for mankind which it aspired to be. There are just too many damned