(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was inspired by Earth Day, which I incorporated as a mountain-shaped acrostic below.)
As ladybugs climb,
Reaching toward the apex,
Toward the one place from which to fly,
Humans will strive for the summit, but do they know why?
Do we know why we cherish a challenge, perhaps our muscles to flex?
A conqueror’s motives are not so complex, and yet the worst danger or risk he expects is stoking his soul to the sky and arms him with courage to live or to die.
Your trials, O Nature, are hopelessly high, and yet mankind eagerly seeks to defy and, foolish or fearless, adventurers try and search for what you have next.
MPAA rating: PG-13
I haven’t seen many mountain-climbing movies, but the 1996 Everest disaster is such a fascinating example of human hubris gone wrong that it has warranted several books and films on the subject. My VC is well-versed on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling account Into Thin Air, and I somewhat remember the 1997 TV movie Into Thin Air: Death on Everest with Christopher McDonald. In light of more recent deadly incidents, like last year’s avalanche caused by the Nepal earthquake, the 1996 events seemed like a timely tragedy worth giving the big-screen, star-studded Hollywood treatment, and this is one example of the Hollywood treatment doing it right.
One of the shortcomings of the Into Thin Air movie and one of the causes of the deaths in the first place was the sheer number of climbers involved. The original film had so many characters whose faces were usually covered by necessary goggles or masks that I had trouble telling them apart. Everest fixes that problem by sacrificing some realism; I was much better able to distinguish between actors, but that was because they kept illogically removing their masks. My VC pointed out that impracticality, and considering the extreme cold endured by everyone, it became more noticeable yet still forgivable from a movie standpoint.
The presence of many famous actors didn’t detract the overall believability at all, from rising stars like Jason Clarke as expedition founder Rob Hall to better-known A-list actors like Jake Gyllenhaal as second team leader Scott Fischer or Keira Knightley as Hall’s pregnant wife, who gets the most emotional scenes. As for the climbers, we get to know the most important with some well-paced calm-before-the-storm introductions: Josh Brolin’s adventurous family man Beck Weathers; John Hawkes (Lost alert!) as desperate-to-summit Doug Hansen; Naoko Mori as Yasuko Namba, who has only Everest to complete her climbs of all Seven Summits; and a host of other amateurs and professionals (Sam Worthington, Martin Henderson). While the introductions aren’t thorough, it’s fair to say that everyone is worth liking and rooting for, and my ignorance of who survived and who didn’t made the eventual tragedy all the more potent.
In addition to the talented ensemble (who filmed on location only as high as base camp), the vision of Everest itself is immense and thrilling, with cinematography that easily could have earned an Oscar nomination. Sadly, disaster movies are no longer the award magnets of Irwin Allen’s day, and save for a lone SAG and Saturn award, Everest has been mostly snubbed. Even without the physical accolades, Everest deserves the positive reviews it has earned, and I rather wish I’d been able to experience it on the big screen. It is a sad story open to miracles that reminds us just how dangerous a sleeping giant can be.
Best line: (Doug Hansen) “I’m climbing Mount Everest… because I can… because to be able to climb that high and see that kind of beauty that nobody ever sees, it’d be a crime not to.”
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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