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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Everest

Starring: Liam Neeson
Director: David Breashears
Rated: NR
RunTime: 44 Minutes
Release Date: March 1998
Genres: Documentary, Suspense

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

It is a fact well established that people travel exclusively to impress their friends. Knowing that, it's surprising that New Yorkers will vacation merely in Puerto Rico and the English in Benidorm. Could you not better arouse the envy and admiration of your buddies back home by making Nepal your destination? After all, why fool around with Bunker Hill when you gaze at Mount Everest--even try your skill at climbing a mile or so? But think about this. Many people have tried to climb to the summit and died. At least one adventurer lost both of his hands to frostbite. When stormy weather comes and the wind-chill favor falls to one hundred degrees below zero, you may wish you had gone to Disneyworld instead.

But if you're still game to try, you have this consolation: your body will help you to adjust. If you ascend gradually, the number of red cells in your body will double so that you can acquire more oxygen. (If you tried to go from sea level to the top in one fell swoop, you'd be unconscious in minutes, dead shortly thereafter.) On the other hand, as you approach the summit, don't expect to be able to think straight, to jog to the top, to sleep or even eat. Mother Nature uses every trick in her book to prevent you from reaching your goal, and to prove this, MacGillivray Freeman Films has put together a spectacular, forty-five minute film which no mere printed material could possibly replicate. "Everest," one of the most impressive nature film ever released, is on display on the 77-foot screen of New York's Sony IMAX theater and will be screened, presumably at additional IMAX locations. Filmed in 2-D and thereby requiring no special devices for viewing, "Everest" makes a good case for reserving half of IMAX screens for pictures using this less adventurous technology. What you lose from bypassing the in-your-face highlight of the 3-D machinery you gain in lightness of head and the familiar border separating you, the audience, from them, the performers. "Everest," in fact, has its own three- dimensional look that conventional screens are quite unable to imitate.

Filmed in Utah, New Hampshire, Colorado, Baja California and Nepal, "Everest" answers the question posed by the magazine "Nineteenth Century" during the 1870s, "Can Mount Everest Be Climbed?" In a brief historical footnote, we learn that New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay reached the summit May 29, 1953. Like the breaking of the four-minute mile by an Australian runner decades ago, this breakthrough led to several successful expeditions between then and now, though the feat is hardly a piece of cake. Though seven hundred people have reached the top, one hundred fifty died trying.

The expedition team which filmed "Everest" was led by David Breashears, who signed Ed Viesturs to the team--a man who not only had reached the summit twice before but did so without extra oxygen. Also joining the team were Viesturs's wife, Paula, who not unwisely thought that this was a strange sort of honeymoon; Jamling Tenzing Norgay, who is the son of Tenzing Norgay (Hillary's guide in '53); and Araceli Segarra, whose goal was to become the first Spanish woman ever to reach the top of the world. To train for the trip, the Viesturses rode their bikes across some Utah canyons, in itself an expedition far too dangerous for most people to undergo as a sudden flat or an improper turn would lead bike and rider down a slipper slope. The viewer is already given the treat of this spectacular rocky scenery right here in our own country, a setting that could perhaps be surpassed in resplendence only by Mount Everest itself.

David Breashears's camera tracks the climb from base camp to the higher levels, focusing on points of singularly high drama, particularly on the Khumbu glacier--a moving waterfall of ice, considered the deadliest place on the mountain because ice blocks can shift and swallow a climber. Though the presentation is essentially a travelogue--a uniquely magnificent one at that--"Everest" underscores some plot points particularly in its visual description of the plight of one of the climbers, who had left his pregnant wife in New Zealand to make the ascent and died during a fierce storm. Spectators in the IMAX audience are given the actual struggle to save his life, as climbers from the safer base thousands of feet below radioed him to try to assure the hapless adventurer that everything would be all right. In the film's climactic moment, Segarra is shown at the moment she becomes the first Spanish woman to reach the top of the world.

At a special invitational screening, the world's second such event, the audience were treated to a brief conference by Breashears and Viestura, who answered questions from the audience, the most poignant being "What do you do with the bodies of those who die in the attempt?" "There are no formal burials," explained the director, "As there is now way that the extra weight can be supported." Victims are left where they are, at best covered up by those who discover them.

Getting to the top of nature's most impressive giant is awe-inspiring enough. Getting there while toting some of the heaviest and most sophisticated cameras yet known-- instruments which will not quit at 40 below--is imposing. In short, "Everest" is not your usual set of travel photographs that you carry back to bore your friends and relatives with.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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