The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



In 1997, Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air became a national best-seller. It told the story of a hiking expedition up Mt. Everest that ended in calamity following a rogue storm. Everest, the new film from director Baltasar Kormakur (2 Guns), is not based on that book, but it is inspired by the same story. This real-life tragedy is the ultimate “man vs. nature” tale, spotlighting human helplessness in the face of Mother Nature's awe-inspiring – and often fearsome – strength. The movie has its shortcomings, yet it gets the idea of man's puniness being no match for nature's most inhospitable tendencies absolutely right.

Jason Clarke plays Rob Hall, the director of a tour guide company that takes hikers up and (more importantly) down Mt. Everest. He kisses pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley) goodbye and heads off for his latest excursion. Among the hikers he brings to the mountain are an unhappily married Texan (Josh Brolin), a guy who missed the summit previously (John Hawkes), and, of course, journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly). When the path up Everest proves crowded, Rob offers to work collaboratively with a competitor, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), to keep things moving. Disaster strikes when a freak, violent storm whisks in from out of nowhere, leaving the hikers snowblind, frozen, and stranded. While they desperately fight to survive, the team at base camp (including Emily Watson and Sam Worthington) attempts to launch a rescue mission.

The world can be divided into two types of people: those who would absolutely scale a mountain the size of Mt. Everest, and those who would think, “What are you, crazy?” If you fall into the latter camp, Everest will leave you convinced that you've made the right choice. The film chillingly (no pun intended) conveys the horror of what happened to the members of this particular expedition. Snow-blindness, frostbite, and the perils of falling are depicted in harrowing detail. It all serves to underscore just how punishing to the human body mountain climbing is. Before they set out, Rob informs his hikers that they will “literally be dying” the higher up they go. We can see how true this is, even before the storm hits.

The really remarkable and effective thing about Everest is that, on a visual level, it's thoroughly convincing. There is not a single moment here that looks like it was computer-generated or shot against a green screen. Every single shot seems real. The visual effects team has done a magnificent job of hiding the seams we know are there. You'll swear they really took the actors up Mt. Everest. Skillful use of 3D adds to the impact. There isn't much here that flies off the screen at you. Instead, 3D is used to enhance the space between hikers, or to emphasize how high up they are, or to illustrate how miniscule they appear against great expanses of mountain and sky. Everest is a magnificent experience in that regard. When the storm hits, the effects and 3D magnify the horror of what happens to these individuals, so that you understand just how helpless they are, thousands of feet in the air with no one easily available to assist. Something unimaginable suddenly becomes very imaginable, and it's nothing short of haunting.

It takes a while to get to this point, though. The first hour of Everest is all build-up, as the hikers acclimate their bodies to the altitude and scale the “easier” sections of the mountain. (Easy, in this instance, meaning walking across ice crevasses on a ladder.) At times, the movie drags a bit in its first half, for that reason. Viewers familiar with hiking may cling to all the technical explanations and scenes of preparation; others may occasionally get a bit restless. Character development isn't entirely satisfying, either. There are so many people to follow that most of them get boiled down to one simple quality or defining trait. None of them are what could reasonably be called fully-developed. Everest is definitely more about the situation than it is about the people enduring that situation.

In spite of those flaws, there's enough here to engross curious viewers. Great care has been taken to convey the harsh realities of what happened on that mountain. Everest never feels like it's faking. This is a tense, terrifying recreation of an event that claimed several lives in a manner that most of us can't even begin to fathom. Until now, at least. Everest puts you up there with the hikers. When it's over, you're relieved to find yourself merely sitting in a theater seat.

( out of four)

Everest is rated PG-13 for intense peril and disturbing images. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.

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