Everest

Everest ** is a disaster movie. Yes, it really is that bad.

Based on a true story of a 1996 expedition to the top of the highest, most dangerous mountain in the world, who could guess that things would go wrong? It’s like Towering Inferno, but without the fires.

An all-star cast assemble then promptly dissemble – who can tell who’s who under the beards, the goggles, the oxygen masks, the snow? Each time our intrepid/foolhardy climbers want to speak (or mostly yell) they have to take off the goggles or mask so we can recognise the star underneath. Oh that’s Josh Brolin. Oh that’s John Hawkes. Isn’t that one Jake Gyllenhaal? I kept thinking, when the snow and ice set in, don’t worry little Jake, Dennis Quaid will be along to save you soon… (Day After Tomorrow reference there, folks).

Thing is, I didn’t care about any of these people. There’s no Shelley Winters moment when you’re sobbing because she didn’t make it across. Nor is there a black character they can bump off first. Who makes it back? Who gives?

Nor is it very cinematic to cut to their distressed wives sobbing on the phone back home. Robin Wright Penn doing breakfast for the kids; Keira Knightley, who seems to be Antipodean, emoting (very well, mind) on the phone and cradling her pregnant belly while hubby dangles above a crevasse on a flimsy ladder.

Emily Watson (also going NZ for this one) hasn’t much more to do, operating the radio and looking worried back at base camp, her troubles evidenced by the constant cradling of mugs of tea or chai or whatever they drink up there.

Base camp looks like a right mess, a sort of Glastonbury at 20,000ft, with similar weather and just as many idiots. They strew nature’s most magnificent beast with their beer and bad music – and we wonder why she then hurls her mighty anger at these puny, anoraked, breathless fools in silly boots.

It would be OK if Icelandic director Balthazar Kormakur had a point of view. He should know from snow, after all, and he does give us vertiginous shots of drops and rocks and crevasses and little avalanches. Still, even (or perhaps particularly) in the 3D Imax format, it does often look like a cheap Christmas grotto, a bunch of polystyrene with dustings of fake snow. Are we in awe of nature here or willing our characters to conquer their own personal mountains? First world problems, which lead to dead bodies and loads of durable plastic in the third world. Haven’t Nepalese villagers got better things to do than rescue rich Americans from their own egos?

With Dario Marinelli’s music swelling and creaking to indicate danger – they’re on an icy ledge at the top of Everest, I don’t need a violin swell to tell me this bit is tricky, thanks – you’ll have to forgive my frosty reception. There are some exciting moments, well captured (a helicopter rescue, for example) but the dialogue and the character mix is basic, the production values and CGI not that impressive.

And they keep saying the word “summit” as if it were an intransitive verb: “We’re summiting on the 10th; I just have to summit; We want to summit first.” Well, I’ll tell you summit: to sum it up: Everest’s snow good.