EVEREST HAS THE same subject as Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air: the Mount Everest disaster of 1996, when eight people died in an attempt to climb, and descend, the mountain. But Everest offers something Krakauer's prose can't: The stunning imagery of the Himalayas. If you don't see Everest on the biggest screen possible, you might as well not see it at all—but if you do see it on a giant screen, the film's jaw-dropping visuals will provide some small sense of why otherwise reasonable people would risk their lives and spend tens of thousands of dollars to reach Everest's summit.
It's good Everest's visuals get that across, because little else about the film does: Rushed and stilted, it's a jumble of characters and tragedies that never coalesce into an engaging narrative. In a film where quick access to tanks of oxygen is a matter of life and death, it seems crass to say Everest is airless, but that is, in fact, how it feels: Flat and empty, it begins with optimism, ends in disaster, and ticks off requisite boxes along the way. Frustratingly, there's a literal line of great actors here, all of whom get inexplicably stuck with one-note parts: Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal all show up, yet few ever seem like anything more than pawns getting nudged into place. By the time a blizzard approaches and the oxygen runs out, all that's left is to watch those pawns suffer; the end result, as one after another freezes and falls, feels weirdly similar to a slasher flick.
Except, you know, the serial killer is nature, and the story is true, and the issues at the heart of it (like what drove these climbers, or how the survivors coped, or how the disaster fits into the increasing commercialization of Mount Everest, where maybe some people just shouldn't go, no matter how much money they have) never get the attention they deserve. I suspect there's a better, longer version of Everest somewhere—one in which the visuals are backed up by substance. Or maybe that better, longer version is Into Thin Air.