Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, September 19, 2008


EVEREST (1998). Directors: David Breashears, Greg MacGillivray, Stephen Judson.
Short documentary shown in IMAX theaters was filmed in 1996 at the same time that a fierce storm claimed the lives of five climbers. It shows several climbers attempting to reach the summit. One of whom, Ed Viesturs, actually leaves his wife to worry about him back in base camp as he makes the nine-week ascent during their honeymoon. His wife is a great sport, perhaps, but he's a self-centered jackass -- couldn't he wait a few months to go after his dream and spend his honeymoon with her? There are some great scenic shots in the movie -- narrated by Liam Neeson and a couple of the climbers -- but it has no real point of view or sense of irony. While one can admire people for wanting to pursue a dream against all odds, and reaching the summit is certainly an achievement of sorts, it's not as if anyone has found the cure for cancer on top of Mount Everest. As Michael Kodas' excellent book High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in An Age of Greed reveals, many people climb Everest not in a spirit of humanity and adventure but for personal glory at any cost, wanting something noteworthy to add to their resume when they go on to become motivational speakers and the like. Kodas writes that often climbers on Everest will callously pass by people who are dying and desperately need help because they're so anxious to realize their "dream" of attaining the summit after spending so much time, energy and money to get there; stopping to help someone might keep them from their goal. (Sir Edmund Hillary once opined that reaching the summit was hardly more important than saving someone's life!) While there may well have been genuine heroes on Everest who risked their lives to save someone else's, it's wrong to claim that every climber on Everest is a hero, whether he or she "summits" or not. Often these "heroes" are self-centered amateurs who risk toes, fingers, and a horrible death via falls, avalanche, freezing, or brain embolism, enduring weeks and weeks of torture, for five minutes on top of a summit whose view, while spectacular, may not be worth the human cost. Instead of a spirit of all-for-one-and-one-for-all, an attitude of every man or woman for him or herself is sometimes the rule. Life-saving equipment is often pilfered from climbers, endangering their lives, and unscrupulous "guides" take advantage of people who have no business being on Mount Everest. The lives of the Himalayan Sherpas who assist the climbers seem held in less regard than the lives of those they assist. Let's face it -- No one climbs Everest to make the world a better place. This documentary has some great photography, but it's totally superficial.
Verdict: Pretty and pretty mindless. Read Kodas' High Crimes instead. **1/2.

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