Sweeping aerial shots from the summit of Everest that must surely be shot from a helicopter…but helicopters can’t fly that high.
A superstorm crashes against the upper slopes of the mountain with a palpable, terrifying fury.
It’s these kinds of shots that only a big budget Hollywood film utilising the latest in IMAX and 3D technology could achieve.
Starring Aussie actor Jason Clarke as well as stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley and Josh Brolin, ‘Everest’ takes an uncompromising look at the tragic events of May, 1996 which saw eight people die after being caught in a blizzard on the upper slopes of Mt Everest.
Speaking after the film’s world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Director Baltasar Kormakur can’t hide his passion for the project.
“It can give you the mountain in a way you’ve never seen before,” he says.
Even though a lot of it is shot on location (in Nepal and the Italian Dolomites), there are very complicated visual effects, and it’s incredible the amount of visual effects needed to finish every shot. In this film, we were able to show as much as physically possible, what it was like to be in that storm.”
Shooting in white-out blizzards in Italy and suffering the effects of altitude sickness at Everest Base Camp were par for the course for the cast and crew while on location, but perhaps the most difficult aspect of bringing ‘Everest’ to life was crafting a coherent screenplay from the multiple – and often conflicting – sources of information from the event.
“Most of the books are first-hand accounts. (Jon Krakauer’s) ‘Into Thin Air’ is a great book but it’s about a writer on a mountain. It’s told from his perspective.” says Kormakur.
“That’s not necessarily what I was looking for. I wanted to tell the whole story, the guides’ story and the clients’ story as well. I think standard Hollywood scripts would create a villain and possibly sanitise Rob Hall and some other characters, to possibly build more empathy.
For me, if you take the hubris and ego out of people, you take a lot of elements they’re built of. I don’t feel (we’re) trashing anybody’s memory, although we do show weakness, and poor decision making…which becomes vital later in the movie.”
And it’s when things inevitably go wrong that ‘Everest’ the film, like its namesake, holds no punches. People the audience have come to care about die and this was something Kormakur was keen to handle in an unsentimental way.
“So many accounts of people dying on mountains are just, “..and then the avalanche hit him and it’s over” or “he fell off the mountain”. That’s how the survivors come to describe it, they don’t find him lying somewhere, breathing his last breath for a final speech or something.”
Kormakur becomes even more matter-of-fact about the ambivalence of nature.
“Once you fall, you either fall to China or Nepal. Most of the time they never find you. That is the incredible reality.
I didn’t want to create some bullshit movie version of death. I don’t believe in that, I think it’s just a moment – you’re wiped out and it’s over. I tried to present that in how you would experience it if you were the mountain.
Hollywood is scared of movies like that don’t have a happy ending. But you couldn’t have Rob Hall stand up and walk down the mountain and everyone is happy…that was not going to happen.”
The film is billed as an ensemble, but we all know Everest is the big star. There are some scenes where snow is flying off the rock and the wind is howling that it looks menacing, then other shots and its completely majestic…was this something you wanted to bring to life?
Yeah, absolutely. That is the weird thing about Everest. It has a sublime effect on you…it seduces you with its beauty, its power and its might and then it just loots you. It changes its mood constantly; it’s blowing hard, and then it’s still. “Come on, come on, you can do it” And then BAM, it hits you.
And that’s how nature is. I have a lot of experience riding horses in the highlands of Iceland; we go out for 2-3 weeks without any support except 100 horses and 5-10 guys. And it seduces you to places “Ride up here, come here” and then there’s a storm around the mountain.
Nature almost plays tricks on you, and that’s what’s exciting about it. A lot of people have asked me – not so many climbers – “Why do people do that? Climb those mountains?” My answer is to ask why would people spend their lives in a basement behind a computer without ever experiencing anything. That’s hard for me to understand. It’s not hard for me to understand people who want to test themselves with nature and experience something unique in their life time and maybe, in some way, get to the core of who you are.
That’s what you feel in an extreme environment. You start understanding who you are, what you’re made of…everything’s chipped away.
‘Everest’ opens nationally September 17, 2015.