Everest: Visual thrill ride something to behold in 3D

Try and remember the last time you sat in a movie theater and were genuinely blown away by what you saw.

Can you picture it even now? Some moments in cinema — whether they be an individual acting performance, captivating scene of dialogue or picturesque shot – will forever remain burned in your mind.

True innovation, especially in the way filmmakers tell stories visually, has offered up some of these dynamic, unforgettable moments in the last several years with the improvements made in cinematography technology, both in 2D and 3D formats.

It’s likely that “Gravity,” the visually stunning space odyssey starring Sandra Bullock, comes to mind, as well it should, especially if you were fortunate enough to catch the film in 3D during its theatrical release. “Everest,” the recently released adventure drama, vaults itself into similar rarified cinematic air with its explosive and dynamic IMAX 3D format.

The film is an adventure in 2D, but becomes an in-the-moment experience in 3D. Films like “Everest” are what 3D technology is truly meant for.

It’s one thing to watch men navigating ledges less than two feet wide at the cruising altitude of a 747, as Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall so eloquently states early in “Everest.” It’s another thing altogether to genuinely feel like you’re up there with them. The IMAX 3D technology of “Everest” gives audiences as close of a front row seat as to what being up on the world’s tallest mountain might actually be like.

While perhaps not the most well-written script, “Everest” stands out from an increasing crowd of largely action films that make unnecessary use of 3D tech to increase box office revenue. Adding 3D to “Everest” actually enhances the film-going experience in a way that hasn’t been duplicated since “Gravity,” though next weekend’s “The Walk” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows a great deal of promise that proper 3D cinematic experiences may become a larger trend.

Filmmakers have waited for years to tell the tragic story of the 1996 climb of Mount Everest, subject of the fantastic account “Into Thin Air,” penned by noted magazine writer and member of the ’96 Adventure Consultants trek Jon Krakauer. Krakauer’s best-selling book isn’t the primary source material for “Everest,” but “House of Cards” actor Michael Kelly does a masterful job of portraying the writer in a key supporting role.

Though the film is littered with talented actors in its ensemble cast, the real star of “Everest” is the mountain itself, with its daunting heights and terrifying depths on full display in both sweeping wide shots and mesmerizing close-ups thanks to director Baltasar Kormakur and cinematographer Salvatore Totino.

The reason it’s taken more than two decades to film a biopic about the men and women who lost their lives on the mountain that day isn’t due to lack of interest, rather that filmmakers wanted to ensure they were able to capture Everest in all its glory, beauty and danger. In that singular aspect alone, Kormakur and his team have definitely hit the mark.

Focusing on the real life actors of “Everest,” Josh Brolin is a standout among standouts, giving his best performance since “No Country for Old Men” as climber Dr. Beck Weathers. Brolin swiftly and confidently maneuvers between emotions of confidence, empathy, longing and angst in a role that’s not typically the most complex or challenging for actors. Brolin’s work comparatively leaps off the screen even when paired with Jason Clarke or the underrated John Hawkes, the Academy Award nominee who portrays average Joe mailman turned expert climber Doug Hansen.

Clark – most recently John Connor of “Terminator: Genisys” fame – provides a steady guiding hand over the entirety of “Everest” as Adventure Consultants team leader Rob Hall. Though they rarely appear together, Clarke and on-screen wife Keira Knightley have great chemistry that helps bind the film together emotionally in a way that Brolin and on-screen wife Robin Wright just don’t have.

Besides Everest itself, the film’s biggest name – Jake Gyllenhaal —   offers a showy, yet underwhelming performance as rival Everest guide Scott Fischer. To be sure, Gyllenhaal proves adept at what the film requires of him, but on the whole, “Everest” doesn’t give viewers a top shelf Gyllenhaal performance like his last two works – “Nightcrawler” and “Southpaw” – do.

Knightley, Wright and the other actresses in “Everest” aren’t given much to work with, especially given that extreme mountain climbing was such a male-dominated activity at the time. There is a nice secondary plot element concerning the group’s lone female climber – Yasuko Namba – trying to reach the top of the final peak of “Seven Summits” on her list. Her journey to climb the tallest mountain on each of the Earth’s seven continents is probably worthy of its own film, though it’s reduced to a minor plot point in “Everest.”

The same thing could probably be said of half of the characters in “Everest,” especially group leader Rob Hall, writer Jon Krakauer and climber Beck Weathers. The fatal flaw in “Everest” isn’t technical execution, but rather overcrowding on the mountain and trying to tell too many stories at once.

With half the film dedicated to the month-long preamble to the climb, “Everest” leaps back and forth between four or five different subplots while only really tying up the two romantic ones – Clarke/Knightley and Brolin/Wright – by film’s end.

But if viewers are going to see “Everest” for the plot points, they’re missing the true point of the film, showcasing one of the world’s most gorgeous natural landmarks in a two-hour adventure worth seeking out in theaters, especially in a 3D format.

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