It wasn’t so long ago that disaster films were the biggest things in cinema. Thanks to the success of films of Titanic and Independence Day, every other blockbuster that was released saw a group of people try to survive some sort of cataclysmic event. That died down for a bit when everyone got sick of them, but recently they have made a bit of a comeback. Pompeii was released in 2014 to some moderate success and a lot of people really enjoyed Dwayne Johnson’s San Andreas, even though it was amazingly average. So, where does Everest rank with those recent releases?
After years and years of being one of the toughest things you can do, expeditions to Everest have become a tourist attraction. The latest groups to go are led by Rob (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty) and Scott (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko) and all have different reasons for going up the biggest mountain in the world. However while on the mountain a storm hits and the groups must get to the bottom or perish.
Disaster films follow a pretty simple formula, it’s why we get sick of them very quickly when they get big. However it is a formula that works. Basically, to do a good disaster film you need a group of characters who may not be the most in-depth but are easily recognizable. You need to then establish those characters quickly and just as everything seems safe, thrust the disaster on them. They then get picked off one by one until a couple of them survive, usually the irritating one. This film does follow some of this formula by having a big group of people, but they all have very little identity. Some of the characters are so similar that if this wasn’t based on real life, they might as well as have blended them together. It’s made worse when they go up the mountain as the snow, ice and parkas cover up any identifying features.
The main issue with not establishing the characters is that we simply do not care what happens. It sounds harsh because these were real people, but if the film doesn’t give me a reason to want to survive other than the briefest of details like they have a family, I’m not going to care when they do get disposed of. The worst of it is when the film does try to have an impactful death, it completely flops because I’m trying to remember who he was and what quirk he had to differ him from the pack, turns out not much of a quirk. It takes away all of the tension of the film.
The pacing is very odd as well. We spend an hour at base camp where the groups train to make sure they can get up the mountain safely. This I think is where we are supposed to learn who the characters are, but as the characters have no personality, it’s a waste of time. Then getting up the mountain is done very quickly. Seriously, they are up the peak in about ten minutes, they make it look incredible easy. It isn’t like they are climbing up the biggest mountain in the world, it’s more like they are going up an escalator. When we eventually get to the group in peril, the pacing does sort itself out but it’s a very weird way to build up to what is the crux of your film.
I didn’t think I’d ever get to say this again about a decently sized budget film, but the effects are very mixed. Some are fantastic and makes Everest look like a mixture of beauty and danger which I think is the whole point of the film, with the CGI and secondary unit shots mixing very well. However other times it looks incredibly dodgy. There are some very suspect green screen shots and some sets look so cheap they belong in a cut priced theme park rather than a Hollywood tent pole. I know this sounds like nitpicking, but bad effects take you out of the film and make you realize it’s all actors playing dress up.
I don’t think this film is outright terrible though. The danger of Everest is put across very well and there were some very effective scenes when Helen (Emily Watson, Corpse Bride) tries all she can to get the climbers down from base camp. In fact, she is the best part of the film because not only is Watson putting in a great performance, she is the only one with a bit of personality. I also think that the director Baltasar Kormákur has some talent as he does pick out some perfect shots, just a shame the effects budget isn’t supporting him.
For the best disaster film, you need the characters to have some personality. Everest thinks it can get away by giving us some of the dullest characters ever put on-screen if it shows enough establishing shots of Everest looking intimidating, but it doesn’t because how can we care about the danger if we don’t care for the people who might die? Yes, simple personality traits can be irritating, but at least we’d know who was about to die. This fails to climb the mountain.