Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Everest

Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur

Produced by: Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Nicky Kentish Barnes
Tyler Thompson
Brian Oliver

Screenplay by: William Nicholson
Simon Beaufoy

Starring: Jason Clarke
Josh Brolin
John Hawkes
Robin Wright
Emily Watson
Keira Knightley
Sam Worthington
Jake Gyllenhaal

Music by: Dario Marianelli

Cinematography by: Salvatore Totino

Editing by: Mick Audsley

Studio(s): Cross Creek Pictures
Walden Media
Working Title Films

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): September 18, 2015 (United Kingdom)
September 25, 2015 (United States)

Running time: 121 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $202, 221, 858

Right, so at long last I've got that interim period over with. Now we can really get started with this. I've worked my ass off all year, so it's nice to see things coming round for me as regards my own goals in life. Every day I'm getting just that little bit closer to them, and each morning I get up energised ready for what is come in my waking hours. I've had so much to juggle, but the fruit of my labours is coming round, step by step, inch by inch. Anywho, enough pontificating, being that I've been neglected the blog this year, the next seven reviews (Everest, John Wick, The Death And Resurrection Show, The Lobster, The Human Centipede 3 (Full Sequence), Criminal Activities, Black Mass) will cover the three-month period of September, October and November. Come Oscar season though, I will have seen enough by that stage that you can still place a relative amount of faith in my opines over the cinematic scene in 2015. So, for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Everest, a survival film directed by notable Icelandic filmmaker and actor Baltasar Kormakur. Based upon the events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, the film received mixed to positive notice upon release and (much to my surprise!) it has hit $200 million at the box-office. Last I checked it was seriously under-performing domestically and abroad, but it seems to have made a hefty chunk of coin in international territories, so it is now technically a hit. The first time I was meant to see this film myself and my good compadre over at Danland Movies were having pre-drinks which ended up turning into a full Sunday session (as you do), so it took us literally about two or three weeks before we actually ended up seeing the film. A lot of work was put into the production of this, with two notable screenwriters in William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy writing, a number of heavyweight producers, a seemingly rotating lineup of cast members being added to and leaving the project (Christian Bale was originally in talks to play the lead), some coming to the film after production had begun shooting. The shooting itself on location also must been tough. Indeed, sixteen Sherpas were killed in an avalanche while the second unit crew was shooting the remaining scenes set in Everest's Camp II. So, story goes that Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), who first popularised the Everest guided climbs, is the leader of Adventure Consultants, who is travelling from New Zealand with his clients to Nepal, leaving behind his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley), promising to be back for the birth of their child. Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the chief guide for Rob's competitor Mountain Madness, and is also bringing an expedition of clients to Nepal. Worried about crowding on the mountain with two separate expeditions climbing at the same time, Rob convinces Scott to co-operate so as to avoid delays, and they plan on reaching the top and turning around by 14:00, the latest safe time that will allow them to return to camp before nightfall. However, things do not go to plan, and the collective group of both expeditions are caught in a blizzard that strikes the mountain. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, while I may have my problems with the film, which I'll get to in due time, I do have to say that the film is from a technical standpoint great. It must have been a royal pain and challenging to shoot the majority of a feature on location at such high altitudes, but DP Salvatore Totino and his crew manage to make the film both accessible and yet immersive in the atmosphere of such circumstances. The same can be said as regards the sound of the film, which is of a consistently high standard. Hearing this in a cinema, especially in the midst of some of the film's sequences amidst the blizzard, hammers home just how oppressive and exhaustive this must have been for all involved. Both sound and vision together make for some genuinely unnerving and tense moments, and unlike many the gut of many contemporary action/adventure films, it revels in drawing them out. Things like the sounds of a shaking horizontally placed ladder over a deep chasm which we are, with the characters, looking down into it have far more impact than about twenty or thirty explosions in numerous other films. All of the raw material for these sequences are compiled together appropriately by editor Mick Audsley. Most notable for his long and fruitful collaboration with Stephen Frears, Audsley has the unique ability of being able to create the illusion that a film has higher production value (financially, anyway) than it might in the hands of another. Thus, a low-budget feature like Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem looks like a mid-range $20-40 million film, and you'd be forgiven if you mad the mistake that Everest was an $80-100 million picture, given the logistical issues involved. Also, though I think the rest of the movie isn't up to the standards in the film's technical department, I cannot lay the fault at director Baltasar Kormakur's feet. This project would be an unenviable task for any filmmaker, most specifically the location shoot, and there I can say at least Kormakur delivered and as a whole I think I can still say I thought this to be a decent film.

For all of Everest's technical prowess, I cannot say that it is a great movie, or even a good film, because there are a number of key faults to denying it that status in this viewer's opinion. The main issue, as with many pictures, arises from the fact that the film's screenplay, as I mentioned, written by no less than two prominent screenwriters in William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, is deeply flawed and could have done with a few more redrafts. While the action sequences are well-realised, the fact is is that none of the film's characters, who are themselves based on real people, come across as more than mere trope. Rob Hall is the protagonist/voice of reason, Scott Fischer is the wild card, Beck Weathers is the stubborn America, Naoko Mori is the token Japanese/foreigner (full of resplendent East Asian stereotypes, being on a journey, bowing a lot and saying "Arigato."), Emily Watson is base camp manager/mother figure, Robin Wright is a wife, Keira Knightley is a pregnant wife... wait a minute! Do I sense a recurring theme here? Yes, pretty much every female character in the film serves as a wife or mother, merely an accessory to their male co-stars. I mean, you've got perfectly capable actors playing those parts, so why reduce them to such a weak onscreen status? Is it necessary to have the cardboard cutouts of 'the fairer sex,' as it were, to convey the plight of the men in the midst of these horrendously trying conditions? What have then coming from this is that the actors are left unable to appropriately convey the emotion necessary for three-dimensional characters, also known as people. Keira Knightley could have had a whole other film herself with the story of Jan Hall, yet all she does is occasionally motivate Jason Clarke in the name of their unborn child and cry. And cry again. I would say it's sexist but for the fact that the men are equally laden with a burden they are unable to overcome. This is a terrific ensemble cast on paper, but for all the good it did, the financiers might as well have cut back on the budget by about $10-15 million and cast unknowns instead.

Everest is one of those films that I have legitimately mixed feelings about. I recognise the fact that it is a technically astute film. Some scenes are simply played out, and end up being full of more tension than a bunch of explosions in a blockbuster. Those working on the cinematography, sound design/mixing and the overall editing of the film have nothing to be ashamed of. The same can be said of Baltasar Kormakur, who seems to handle most of the logistical challenges that come with shooting on location. However, I can't overlook the fact it is also a deeply flawed film. The script could have done with at least a few more redrafts, the characters, who are based on real people and meant to be the emotional centre of the piece, come across as nothing more than two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. This also negatively affects the performances of the actors, and given the credibility of the ensemble cast involved, they should have been given more to do.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Boom! (the ball bounces off the wall!)

P.S. Note to marketing department. Isn't the tagline "Never Let Go" a little too similar to Gravity's "Don't Let Go?"

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