Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review: Everest (IMAX) 4 Stars

I’ve often wondered why IMAX filmmakers don’t assemble movies in the vein of Koyaanisqatsi. The insistence on telling stories one step below Afterschool Specials detracts from the overall breathtaking visual spectaculars the IMAX format provides. Everest defies that notion. The dramatic vistas are overshadowed by dramatic real-life events that unfolded during the shooting.

Filmmaker and mountaineer David Breashears chronicles the Everest climb of American Himalaya expert Ed Viesturs and his team. Joining Viesturs are his bride Paula (this was their honeymoon), Araceli Segarra, a rockclimber hoping to be the first Spanish woman to reach the peak and Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the son of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Sherpa guide on the historic 1953 expedition.

Their stories of personal heroics, however, take a backseat to the tragedy that befalls two other teams. While the Viesturs’ team acclimatizes at base camp for five weeks, two other groups scale the mountain but are stranded near the summit during a harrowing blizzard. Eight climbers die, including Viesturs’ best friend, New Zealander Rob Hall. In a tragic segment, the near frozen Hall, trapped on the mountain and preparing for his inevitable demise, is patched through to his seven-months-pregnant wife via Viesturs radio. Viesturs confides that this conversation prompted the entire crew to sob.

The next morning, another climber, Beck Weathers, miraculously staggered down Everest to the base camp. His hands and nose completely frostbitten, too weak to make his way down, a Sherpa helicopter pilot, risks his own life, flying much higher than usually permitted to rescue Weathers.

Weathers inspires Viesturs, Segarra and Norgay to continue their ascent and, finally, they reach the summit, paying tribute to Hall and Norgay’s father. With the mountain as a mythological backdrop, “Everest” gorgeously documents a test of human spirit that, once passed, illuminates the full majesty of the human spirit. Narrated by Liam Neeson. With music by George Harrison.

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