“Everest” and “Into Thin Air” and armchair mountaineering

everestI am fascinated by mountain climbing, even though I have never done more than hike to the top of a mountain with a good trail. You can’t pack everything that intrigues you into one life, and this is something that didn’t make it into mine. So when I had the chance to climb a major peak in the Himalayas, in my imagination, along side my character Haley, I welcomed it and relished the research that went with it.

It’s not surprising that I’m also attracted to movies and books on the subject, and I finally got around to seeing the movie “Everest” which came out last September. I knew it was based on the 1996 climbing season when several climbers died in a sudden storm on the world largest peak.

So. Did I like the movie?

climbersNot nearly as much as I had hoped. For one thing, I saw it on our nice big television screen, but think that the beautiful cinematography would have been more impressive in a theater. More importantly, I wanted to get emotionally involved with the climbers, but too many of them were introduced too fast for me to sort them out, much less develop empathy with any of them. Combine the gear each climber wore with the quick introductions and sheer number of them, and I was challenged just figuring out who was who.

I later read that Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 3.6/5 rating and said Everest boasts all the dizzying cinematography a person could hope to get out a movie about mountain climbers, even if it’s content to tread less challenging narrative terrain.” Yeah, that too. There wasn’t so much a story (or stories) as there were a lot of snippets of many people getting ready to climb, many people climbing, and then some people dying. It had more of the feel of a documentary that was very well filmed and used good actors.

Part of the problem was that I had read Jon Krakauer ‘s book “Into Thin Air” several years ago and loved it. Krakauer tells the same tale of the same climbers in 1996, but tells it from the raw emotion of having survived that year’s climb himself. The book is hard to put down and carries an emotional punch that stuck with me for a long time. The movie simply lacks that punch.

I saw that Jon Krakauer did not have good things to say about the movie either, although his criticism centered around how the movie portrayed him, and in fact how the writers created a scene involving him that never really happened. Whatever the writers intent, I can understand how that would irk someone.

The Guardian reviewed the movie and thought that Emily Watson stole the show as the “base camp controller trying to manage the unfolding chaos” and I would have to agree. As one of the few women and one of the few characters not actually climbing, she is easily identifiable and manages to add continuity and tension to the otherwise choppy story.

My husband has no interest in mountain climbing at all. He very much prefers to chase any kind of ball around any sort of field or court. As we watched “Everest” he seemed most taken with the Texan amateur climber who is in over his head and survives, but loses a lot of his body to frostbite. As the movie ended, he looked at me oddly and told me how really glad he was that in spite of my fascination with high mountains, this wasn’t something I felt I had to go do. Yeah, I guess the movie gave me that as well.




3 thoughts on ““Everest” and “Into Thin Air” and armchair mountaineering

  1. ryan_j_m@hushmail.com

    I didn’t see either movie, but your article reminded me of having read the book Annapurna, when I was about 10 years old. I think I have mentioned it before. They got to the summit without major incident, but all hell broke loose on the way down: avalanches, frostbite, storms. Herzog lost several of his fingers. Several members were killed in an avalanche.

    I vicariously associate with mountain climbers, but would never try it myself, nor should amateurs, in my opinion.

    From Wikipedia:

    _Annapurna: First Conquest of an 8000-meter Peak__ (1951) is a book by French climber Maurice Herzog, leader of the first expedition in history to summit and return from an 8000+ meter mountain, Annapurna in the Himalayas. It is considered a classic of mountaineering literature and perhaps the most influential climbing book ever written.[1][2][3]_

    _The book has sold over 11 million copies, as of 2000, more than any other mountaineering title.[3] Maurice Isserman in Fallen Giants (Yale University Press, 2010), a history of Himalayan climbing, consider Annapurna to be the “most successful [mountaineering] expedition book of all times”.[1] In the United States it was published as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection which increased its circulation and popularity.[5] National Geographic in its list of all-time 100 greatest adventure and exploration books ranked Annapurna #6 out of 100, saying the book “conveys the essential spirit of climbing as no popular book had before and earns its place here as the most influential mountaineering book of all time.”[2]_

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