Inspired by the incredible events surrounding an attempt to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Everest documents the awe-inspiring journey of two different expeditions challenged beyond their limits by one of the fiercest snowstorms ever encountered by mankind. Their mettle tested by the harshest elements found on the planet, the climbers will face nearly impossible obstacles as a lifelong obsession becomes a breathtaking struggle for survival. Critics call Everest “… exciting, thrilling, moving, and completely engaging.” – Scott Mendelson, Forbes
"Human beings simply aren't built to function at the cruising altitudes of a seven-forty-seven."
What is it that drives some people to do certain things or perform fantastic feats of skill or strength or demonstrate a particular talent? Some people are driven to the brink of insanity to achieve a goal, risking life and limb in the process. Something clicks in some people's brain that tells them that when they see the highest point on Earth in the most inhospitable place, where not acclimating appropriately can kill them, they must climb to the top. Everest has literally stood as the peak of human endurance. Men have died attempting to be the first to summit Everest as depicted in the exceptional 1924 film 'The Epic of Everest' about the ill-fated attempt by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine and literally hundreds more have died since it was conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay nearly 70 years ago. 'Everest' directed by Baltasar Kormákur recounts one of the most deadly attempts in 1996 when two teams of climbers got caught in a late-season storm on the very peak of Everest.
Veteran climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is no stranger to Mount Everest. Having made seven successful summits, one of which was done with his wife Jan (Keira Knightley), Rob and his business partners Andy Harris (Martin Henderson) and Guy Cotter (Sam Worthington) have turned taking amateur climbers up to the top of Everest a business. Since their company's inception in 1992, they had taken 19 climbers up to the top of the world and back down safely. As their company has grown in popularity, other climbers like Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) have followed suit and started their own Everest tour companies creating a virtual traffic jam of climbers on one of the most dangerously unpredictable mountains on the planet.
This year Rob and Andy are taking on some adventurous climbers with Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), the famous outdoor journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a pathologist from Texas by the name of Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and a returning climber who failed a previous attempt Doug Hansen (John Hawkes). Each of these individuals has his or her own reason for wanting to climb the mountain. As Krakauer probes the group for the article he's writing, it becomes apparent that everyone has their own unexplained reason why they're risking their lives to summit the mountain. Doug says he's doing it for the kids at home so they can believe in accomplishing the impossible, but there's something deeper beyond those words that he holds back for himself.
As the team reaches base camp, they undergo a month-long acclimation process of altitude adjustment and brief treks up and down parts of the mountain so their body's are ready for the hazards to come. Meanwhile, family and loved ones are left at home to wonder and worry. Jan is pregnant with her and Rob's first child, a little girl and Jan is quite eager to have her husband back in time for the birth. Beck is on this climb and missing he and his wife Peach's (Robin Wright) anniversary causing further strain on their marriage.
With family eagerly waiting at home, the team does what they can to prep for their assent, but it becomes clear that there are just too many people on the mountain. In order to cut through the traffic to ensure their May 10th ascent date, Rob and Scott decide to join teams to share the workload. As ready as they are, neither Rob, Scott, or anyone else climbing Everest that day could possibly be prepared for the freak storm that hits right when everyone is trying to come back down. With lives hanging in the balance, Rob's basecamp team lead by Helen Wilton (Emily Watson) and Guy Cutter must do their best to help coordinate the rescue efforts to bring as many climbers as possible back down the mountain alive.
Whenever I see a new movie coming out being marketed as "Based On A True Story" I immediately take it with a grain of salt. After all, that's exactly how they marketed the 2003 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' remake. Given that caveat, I admit that I wasn't quite prepared for this movie. From the trailers one would expect 'Everest' to be a rip-roaring human adventure film of climbers endangering their lives to climb Mt. Everest; I wasn't ready for it to actually be a reasonably accurate telling of true events. As the film started to play out I began to remember seeing news reports and reading magazine articles about what happened in 1996. While I can't swear to the accuracies of character depictions, I will say that 'Everest' does an incredible job at depicting the events that transpired with a dramatic intensity that grabs your attention and keeps you on the edge of you seat for two hours. I will be appropriately vague about what happens when and to whom because I don't want to spoil the film for anyone who hasn't seen it or already knows the story of what happened to these climbers, so I apologize for any and all future nondescript terminology during this write-up.
Before going into story or performances, 'Everest' needs to be singled out for it's impressive technical achievements in order to place recognizable movie stars on the summit of Mt. Everest. Obviously, a great deal of digital trickery was employed to create many scenes of the film, but what also stands out is the amount of location shooting as far as 16,000 feet up Everest itself as well as in-studio practical effects work. From real locations to digital composites to large-scale sets, this film is a visual feast for the eyes. While there are some slight "Uncanny Vally" moments where the digital compositing doesn't quite work, the rest of the elements come together to create a sense of realism helping the viewer to suspend disbelief that Jason Clarke and the rest of the fine cast are actually climbing Everest.
Then you have the impressive cast of 'Everest' lead by Jason Clarke as Rob Hall, Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers, Naoko Mori as Yasuko Namba, Michael Kelly as Jon Krakauer, and especially the always fantastic John Hawks as Doug Hansen. All of these actors are on point and do an incredible job of sucking you into the film and helping you believe the real peril their true-life counterparts faced. Add in some fantastic supporting turns from Jake Gyllenhaal, Martin Henderson, Emily Watson and Keira Knightley and you have the makings for a grand adventure. When you're dealing with raw emotion on screen it's difficult to nitpick little bits and pieces of an actor's performance, especially when you take into account that this is a retelling of events. Some scenes may feel a little too "Hollywood" at times, but then you have to consider that the filmmakers were working from the actual recordings of radio conversations Rob Hall and his team had with their Everest base camp.
Where 'Everest' stumbles a bit is in the depiction of the tragic events. So much time is spent getting to know the characters and who they are and why they're doing what they're doing that the actual disaster itself feels a bit rushed and shortchanged. While I appreciate the filmmakers wanting to not dwell on the morbidity of some of these people dying, the circumstances surrounding some of the events depicted could have been cleared up. I understand that there are conflicting accounts of events as well as some genuine mystery as to how some things even happened in the first place, but I would have liked the build up to the film's climax to have been handled with a little more ease. The film is incredibly abrupt with its conclusion and seeing the last few moments come to a close left me saying "Wait, what just happened?" The abruptness almost feels like a reel of the film went missing because all of a sudden the epilogue starts rolling. That aside, the rest of the film is a fantastic watch, so don't let my little quibble stop you from considering a viewing.
As a work of drama 'Everest' does a damn fine job at capturing an audience's attention. If you're someone going into this film expecting something along the lines of 'Vertical Limit' or something with a lot more action and adventure, this isn't that movie - even though the trailers did a fair job of making it look that way. My suggestion to anyone considering watching 'Everest' is to go into it as cold (no pun intended) as you can, don't pull up too many trailers and whatever you do don't run this story through Wikipedia! I can say as someone who didn't know much about the film or the historical events going in, 'Everest' works best if you don't know what is going to happen next.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Everest' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Universal Pictures in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD set. The Blu-ray is pressed onto a Region A BD50 discs. Housed in a standard two-disc Blu-ray case with identical slip cover, the disc opens to a series of trailers for other Universal releases before arriving at the animated main menu.
'Everest' features a gorgeous 2.40:1 1080p presentation. Featuring full detail clarity, it's easy to see and appreciate fine facial features, the scenery, and the impressive amount of work that went into the production design work to make the locations look as authentic as possible. While some of the wider shot digital effects don't quite hold up under scrutiny, the vast majority of the film is a visual feast - especially when the climbers arrive in Nepal and reach their base camp. Given the snow-covered scenery, this is a very white-heavy film allowing colors to have plenty of pop - especially the bright primaries and neon colors the cast wears to match the mid-90s time period of the story. Black levels are perfectly inky allowing for an impressive sense of depth at all times - especially when the cast is walking on a plane of white snow, the image looks like it can go on for a great distance. Free of any noise or compression issues, this is a truly fantastic demo-worthy presentation.
'Everest' comes packed with a thunderingly impressive ATMOS Dolby True HD 7.1 audio track. Since I don't have a full ATMOS setup yet, I can only comment on the effect from a standard 5.1 setup point of view and I'll say I was floored at the sense of auditory immersion I was experiencing throughout the film - especially when the second act kicks in and the climbers reach Everest and the sounds of wind and snow and ice whipping around kicked in. I'll admit that prior to viewing this Blu-ray of 'Everest' I never really felt the need for an ATMOS setup, now I really want one - provided my budget allows for it! Dialogue throughout the film - even when the worst weather is hitting the team and your side and rear surrounds are fully engaged - is crystal clear and easy to hear. The audio elements from the dialogue to the beautiful score by Dario Marianelli to the sound effects create a rich sound design that this audio track fully exploits in all of the best ways. Levels are well balanced, there are a few moments of jump sound effects, but it all works for the film and the track handles the sudden volume shifts with ease. Truly an impressive track that makes this writer jealous of anyone with a full ATMOS setup.
UPDATED 2/3/2013: Palmer here with a few thoughts on the Dolby Atmos mix. My current setup includes KEF R Series Speakers. Mentioned in our most recent Holiday Gear Guide, this gorgeous, piano black 7.2.4 system consists of two front R900 towers, one R600C center channel, two side-surround R700 towers, two rear-surround R500 towers, two R400b bass-pounding subs, and four Ci200RR-THX in-ceiling speakers. Power comes from a nine-channel AVR-X6200W, on loan from Denon, and my personal Marantz MM7205 two-channel amp.
'Everest' in Dolby Atmos is all about world-building immersion. While some Atmos mixes tilt more towards aggressive object panning -- and to be clear this track has those elements too, like helicopter rotors -- 'Everest' stands out for creating whole hemisphere environmentals. The best way to describe it is to imagine your home theatre flying itself to the top of the highest mountain on Earth. Wind and snow swirl around and pelt the listener with chilling precision. The thunder-cracking monster storm is so wholly enveloping you feel like you're trapped with the characters, fighting to get down the mountain. All the more impressive when one considers how challenging it is to mix complex sound fields (too many overlapping noises could break down into a messy cacophony). Instead each separate element is tangible and tactile, produced to give the sensation of grounded reality. LFE activity is decent as well, though not earth shattering.
If you're already rocking Dolby Atmos, 'Everest' offers up plenty of demo material that highlights the format's ability to create cinematic-yet-realistic worlds.
Audio Commentary: Director Baltasar Kormákur provides an impressively detailed and fascinating commentary track talking not only about the day to day shooting and casting but also explaining various scenes and how they were based on multiple accounts of the events and not just a single source.
Race to the Summit: The Making of 'Everest': (HD 10:59) While very brief, this is a better than average EPK style extra feature. It shows a lot of cast and crew material as well as showcasing the harsh conditions the film was made under on various icy locations in Nepal and Italy. Wish it could be longer as there is quite a lot of material that can be expanded upon.
Aspiring to Authenticity: The Real Story: (HD 6:47) An entirely too short of a look at the real people involved during the actual incident including interviews with family members who lost loved ones.
'Everest' is a hell of a flick. As a recreation of tragic real-life events, the film thankfully doesn't dwell on the morbid nature of what happened but instead takes it as a celebration of living life as well as an appreciation for the effort that was made to rescue the people involved and powerlessness they faced against nature. If you're someone who doesn't know much about what happened on Everest in May of 1996, Do yourself a favor and don't do too much Googling ahead of your viewing, you'll have a better appreciation for the film. Universal Pictures has done a hell of a job pulling this disc together offering a first-rate A/V presentation with a demo-worthy image and a thunderingly effective ATMOS audio track along with some halfway decent extra features. Highly recommended!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.