Jake Gyllenhaal in Everest. (Universal Pictures)
Jake Gyllenhaal in Everest. (Universal Pictures)

What it’s about:

The movie is based on the harrowing events of 1996, when two climbing groups were caught in a violent storm while attempting to conquer the world’s highest mountain.

One expedition is led by compassionate papa bear Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the other by adrenaline junkie, top-knot wearing Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal). Rob has left his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley) back home in New Zealand, promising to "be back for the birth".

After acclimatising at the moon-rock like Base Camp and at camps further up the mountain, the teams finally get a window in the weather and start their trek to the summit.

But that window is short and missing it could spell disaster – and, as the storm barrels up the mountain with the velocity of a freight train, hurtling gale-driven snow and rain in the faces of the exhausted climbers, disaster is indeed what follows.

The summit of Everest, as we’re told, is at the cruising height of a 747 and humans aren’t expected to function here.

“Your body is literally dying,” Rob tells his team before the climb begins. “I mean literally dying.”

The words would be prophetic.

What we thought:

Shot in 3D (and see it in IMAX if you can), the format offers you depth in more than the obvious way. You can feel the tension as the climbers slog up steep slopes of snow and ice, and a scene where Beck (Josh Brolin) loses his nerve on a ladder balanced precariously over a stomach-turning crevass will have you on the edge of your seat.  

The early scenes afford those of us who have no intention of climbing a temperamental mountain a taste of what the more intrepid get up to. And it’s hectic stuff – we see adventurers coughing up blood, gasping for oxygen, sightless from snow-blindness… Everest itself isn’t that hard to climb, mountaineers will tell you – it’s the altitude and the weather that get you.

Everest is gripping and moving (take tissues) and beautifully filmed. It  has a stellar cast who give their all – especially Emily Watson as Helen, who’s in charge of Rob’s Base Camp tent.

But if there is one problem it’s that we never really get to know the characters – perhaps because there are too many good actors vying for attention. With the exception of Rob (aided by emotional scenes with his wife), the other climbers are somewhat one-dimensional. Take Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) for instance – he’s a famous journalist and mountaineer yet we don’t get a sense of him at all.

The real star is Everest. The mountain people climb “because it’s there”.