Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Disney, fullscreen, languages: English DD 5.0 [CC], subtitles: none, single side-dual layer, 16 chapters, rated NR, 40 min., $39.99, street date 12/7/99.
Directed by David Breashears, Stephen Judson, Greg Mac Gillivray. Narrated by Liam Neeson.
Relive a breathtaking journey to the top of the world with Everest, the spectacular giant-screen motion picture for IMAX theatres!
Filmed during the infamous 1996 storm that claimed eight lives, Everest documents the filmmakers' harrowing rescue efforts to help surviving members of the ill-fated group. Join an international team of climbers as they scale the world's tallest peak. Witness the perils of skin-blistering cold, violent blizzards that drop the windchill to minus 100 degrees and air so thin it numbs the mind. Everest will take you across creaking icefalls and gaping chasms, up dangerous, towering cliffs and into the danger zone of oxygen-thin altitude. Filmed in spellbinding IMAX Photography, "the most hyperrealistic format yet invented," says producer Greg MacGillivray.
Narrated by Academy Award nominee Liam Neeson, including the music of George Harrison, Everest is a rich, dramatic story - a daring adventure of triumph and tragedy.
As a lifelong resident of the Washington, D.C. area, I long ago grew sick of museums. Why is that? For one, I endured endless school field trips to the Smithsonian. Hey, it's a wonderful place, but there's only so much a kid can take!
Add to that the innumerable visits incurred because of relatives who came to town. Uncle Zippy's here - gotta head to the Smithsonian! Aunt Zelda came in - Smithsonian, here we come! Get the picture?
Most frequent destination was the Air and Space Museum. Again, great place, but I got royally sick of that joint. I hadn't been there in years before the 1998 Star Wars exhibit finally brought me back to it.
One of the prime attractions at the Air and Space Museum was an IMAX movie called To Fly. It was a nice piece of work - the first 77 times! Its repetition soured me on the IMAX experience, and took the Stones to get me back to one of those theaters.
As such, I viewed the DVD copy of Everest I received with some trepidation. Nonetheless, I tried to watch it with an open mind.
So what did I think? Ehh, it was okay. From what I've heard, this film was a huge success at IMAX screens across the world. If that's the case, I honestly don't understand all the fuss. It's a good piece of filmmaking, but I didn't think it seemed tremendously compelling.
Part of the problem comes from the idea of watching IMAX films in a home setting. In their intended medium, these movies are huge and spectacular, and that's much of the point; as such, you lose a lot when you see it at home on your TV, no matter how big a screen you possess.
Would I have liked Everest better on a giant screen? Maybe, but I also have to acknowledge something of a bias against the project as a whole. Please don't flame me, but I don't for one second fathom why someone would risk their lives to climb to the top of a mountain. I have many ideas about this subject, but I'll keep them to myself and leave it at that; I truly find the concept to by mystifying.
As such, it was hard for me to watch a program about climbing a mountain because I thought the whole endeavor seemed so pointless and senselessly dangerous. Some of that reaction stemmed from the emphasis of Everest. This isn't simply a travelogue that documents the undeniable beauty of that part of the world. No, it largely focusses on the climbers who will make this trek, and their journey is presented to us as a vague narrative.
They should have stuck to the travelogue bit. I think the program would have been more compelling if they left out the emphasis on the people and made it about the location. After all, that's the point of an IMAX production; it should reproduce something exotic in a larger-than-life way. I didn't want or need to see these climbers on such a huge screen, but I would like to view the Himalayas that way. IMAX can offer that "you are there" feeling, but that seems wasted when we see so much of the scenery obscured by climbers.
There's enough raw scenery there to make the piece compelling, but it still didn't do a lot for me. Again, the reduction in scope necessitated by the smaller screen didn't help, especially because it makes the footage lost to the climbers that much more significant.
IMAX productions are further compromised in their home video presentations by the alteration in screen dimensions. I wasn't able to find a definitive answer about the aspect ratio of an IMAX film, but according to IMDB, it's 1.44 times as tall as it is wide. As such, if an IMAX picture is to appear on a 4X3 TV screen in its original ratio, it would need bars on the sides of the image. I don't know if any IMAX videos have appeared this way, but Everest doesn't; it becomes a fullscreen presentation. (The only other IMAX video I've seen is The Rolling Stones At the Max, which also appeared in a fullscreen version.)
As much as I like to see films presented in their original aspect ratios, I have to admit that fullscreen is probably the way to go for IMAX offerings. Even in fullscreen, the onscreen action often appears very small; something that's very easily detected on a huge screen can vanish to near nothing on a TV. If the film appeared in its original ratio, that issue would be exacerbated and it's likely that very little detail would be discernible. I'd be interested to see both versions presented on a DVD - for the record, there was enough disc space on Everest to do so - but still anticipate that the fullscreen version would be preferable.
Anyway, Miramax present Everest in a cropped fullscreen edition on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; since it's fullscreen, the film has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, it looks very good, though the IMAX format introduces some problems. The image seems very sharp and clean, but shimmering and moiré effects are a bit of a problem. That issue seems to result from the condensation of the IMAX image; so much detail is packed into the original that the smaller version inevitably will seem "off." A few print flaws appear in the form of speckles and scratches, but these don't interfere significantly.
Colors are limited due to the overall whiteness of the setting, but what we see looks terrific; the bright outfits of the climbers seem quite bold and brilliant, and the candlelit scenes depicting a reenacted childhood of one climber also offer some strong natural hues. When they're apparent, black levels also appear good, and shadow detail is fine. All in all, it's a very good image that suffers from some flaws that may be rather unavoidable.
Even better is the terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This offers narration from Liam Neeson interspersed with comments from the climbers. We also hear adapted versions of five different George Harrison songs (including his own live performance of "Here Comes the Sun" at the end) and a great deal of natural effects.
While the whole thing sounds good, it's that last area that stands out in this production. The atmosphere of Everest comes through quite nicely and helps add to the "you are there" feeling. Watch out during the avalanche, though - it might not make you dive under your couch, but it'll probably cheese off the neighbors due to the solid bass response.
It's an active soundtrack that uses all five channels widely and accurately. The three-dimensional soundfield is quite good and effectively envelops the viewer. The quality of all aspects of the audio production is also very strong; dialogue, music and effects all sound very clear, crisp, natural and rich. All in all, it's a terrific soundtrack.
Everest includes a pretty nice complement of supplements. First up is a pretty good 38 minute documentary called "The Making of Everest". While it's mildly redundant and offers some of the same information presented in the film, it presents a more technically-oriented version of the events. I found that to be interesting because I honestly did wonder about how this movie was shot while I watched it. There was no mention of the IMAX team, and since they made it out to be so incredibly difficult to climb Everest, I started to wonder if the climbers themselves shot it!
Of course, that wasn't the case - as demonstrated by the fact that the cameras caught them as they made it to the top - so it's good to see the filmmakers get their due. They had to work harder than these climbers to make it up, so it kind of bothered me that the feature version doesn't mention them. In any case, it's a pretty good documentary; I actually liked it more than Everest itself.
Another extended video segment offers 36 minutes of interviews with Beck Weathers. He's a climber who almost died on Everest during the shoot (though he was with a different team and wasn't affiliated with the IMAX group). His comments were interesting but entered the realm of overkill; they're worth a look but not great.
The DVD also features about five and a half minutes of deleted scenes. Most of these show images of the villages that neighbor the mountains, but some shots of the climb appear as well. They're mildly interesting at best.
Next up are three separate "video journals" from climbers Ed Viesturs, Araceli Segarra, and Jamling Norgay. Ed's piece lasts about six and a half minutes, while the other two get approximately five and a half minutes each. The title "video journals" is somewhat misleading. From that descriptor, I thought each segment would show footage shot by the climbers themselves, whereas these bits simply offer more interviews with the participants in question plus some general "look at the mountain/camp/whatever!" shots.
To be frank, by the time I got to these journals, I was awfully sick of hearing these folks babble on and on about their climb. It's tough, the weather's bad - okay, we got it! Much of the material in these pieces is quite redundant; we've heard the same details so many times already that I thought I was going to plotz! The segments are well-presented but felt like overkill.
Finally, the DVD includes a trailer for another IMAX production, Titanica. Yes, that one's available on DVD as well.
I'm having an odd day when it comes to writing recommendations. Usually the letter ratings I assign correspond pretty directly with my final advice, but not today. The two Nicholson movies I rated - Five Easy Pieces and The Last Detail were both pretty weak in all quality areas but the movies were strong enough to warrant positive sentiments.
Everest, on the other hand, aces all of the qualitative ratings but I simply didn't much like the program. It's a decent little documentary, but I felt that its emphasis on an unnecessary story hurt it. The movie looks and sounds very good, and the supplements are quite extensive; yeah, I felt they went on too long, but "too much" is greatly preferable to "not enough," so I still gave them high marks. Speaking personally, Everest is not a DVD I feel I can really recommend because I didn't much like it, especially at a high MSRP of $39.95. However, if you're more inclined toward this sort of project, you'll be very pleased with it.