When it comes to obscure movies that for whatever reason, I just cannot get enough of… I really do think this one takes the cake. I remember back when I was a kid, I had several phases and things that just caught my young childhood mind’s eye. For the longest time I was in to tornadoes, snakes, and after my grandmother gave me a book on the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster called Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, I became fascinated with Mount Everest as well. For those of you who dropped out of school at 3rd grade, Mount Everest is the tallest point on this Earth. Since the first ascension by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, professional climbers and amateurs from around the world have viewed Mount Everest as the ultimate test of human fortitude and endurance. Around the time of 1996 however, the concept of Everest being the privilege of the most elite of climbers was a thing of the past as many people saw the profit in escorting rich novices to the summit of Everest who would be willing to pay as much as $60,000 a head just for the experience of setting foot on the top of the world. Naturally, anyone can see where this is going. The 1996 Disaster was not the first attempt of escorting rich novices up Mount Everest and was by no means the last. But it was the moment when the consequences of this action was finally addressed which, is what we will get into with the synopsis.
Into Thin Air: Death on Everest is the story of the 1996 Everest Disaster. It is told by climber Jon Krakauer about the ill-fated trip of expert climbers Rob Hall and Scott Fischer’s climbing companies Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness respectfully as they attempted to summit Everest in May of that year. After the successful summit a powerful storm came up from the base of the mountain and stranded most of the climbers as they attempted to descend to camp. The story is told by Jon Krakauer, a climber working for Outside Magazine who wrote an eye-witness account and later a book about what happened to the other climbers who were stranded on the mountain during the storm. At the end of the storm and earlier the next day out of the twelve climbers stranded in the storm, five were dead including Hall and Fischer with another member, Beck Weathers suffering from extreme frostbite.
The Movie is One of the Few Movies That Actually Took “Based on a True Story” To Heart
The term ‘based on a true story has become little more than a joke in the Hollywood community nowadays. Anytime I see the words ‘based on a true story’. It is usually followed with me laughing at how delusional Hollywood must think we are to actually believe the events in the film happened in real life.
With the exception of a few things we will get into in the con area of this review, really the only thing that this film did to change the story itself was to omit a few characters who had little impact on the events at large. Half of the clients and some of the lesser known sherpas were removed from the film just because it would be impossible to flesh out nearly 34 people in an hour and a half.
I think that is one of the big things that draws me to this film is the fact that it is based on real events and actually shows those events unfolding without changing much of anything to the overall story. Granted, this one is pretty easy. The 1996 Disaster itself sounds like the plot to a thriller. But still they stuck to the events as they unfolded and gave a very real feeling to it. A feeling of freezing cold and hopeless despair as these people are practically trapped on the moon with no hope for rescue.
Some of the Acting is Pretty Hokey
Not all of the acting is bad in this film. Nathaniel Parker who plays Rob Hall does a fantastic job in his role. So does Long Nguyen who plays Sherpa Ang Dorje…. And then there is the others in this film and boy do they have all of the feel of made for television actors. I don’t want to come down on them too hard, but many of them just are not good at conveying intense grief. Many of the actors are pretty bad criers and when the real emotional scenes hit, they just come across as caricatures than real people.
While others are guilty of this in different ways, Christopher McDonald has to take the prize in my book. I have nothing against McDonald as a person but I am just not a fan of his acting. He always came across as too smarmy and ham-fisted for my tastes. He isn’t terrible in everything he has done, but for this one he just feels miscast. All of the scenes where he is sitting in the tent listening to other people die are over the top and hammy while the narration he gives leaves me feeling like Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore stepped into the sound studio… Though that one really isn’t his fault.
For a made for television movie like this, they needed to collect a little higher budget actors than they did. If so, the film probably would have gone over a little better than what it did.
The Treatment of Certain Characters in the Film
I mentioned this earlier in the pro section of this review, but even this movie as attached to reality as it is cannot escape 100% free of misrepresenting certain people. The three people who really get the shit end of the stick was Doug Hansen, Anatoli Boukareev, and Sandy Hill Pittman.
In the film, Hansen is portrayed very much as a belligerent man who loses his mind on the mountain which eventually leads to his death. While it is believed that Hansen was having trouble comprehending near the end. It was stated that leading up to the summit that he could comprehend just as well as anyone else attempting to hit the top.
Though his was relatively harmless all things considered, the same cannot be said for Pittman and Boukareev whose images could be construed as slanderous by their representation. Pittman is shown as a New York Socialite and a person who was giving Fischer publicity in the early years of the internet. She was shown to have an espresso machine and plenty of gear to keep in relative comfort. All of this is true. But by insinuating that she had sexual affairs on the mountain when it was made very clear in Krakauer’s book that nobody was pointed out as the person and also insinuating that she was a major contributor to the failure of the climb gets pretty nasty. Pittman is presented as one of the major contributors to the problems the group suffered and a lot of it in the film is not true.
Boukareev on the other hand is a problem with both the book and the movie and comes a lot more from Krakauer’s interpretation of him. While many sources have said that Boukareev was a very helpful and hard working guide. He is portrayed in this one as a slacker and a person who seems rather uninterested in the clients needs and concerns. Films based on a true story, especially ones that were created only a year after the incident need to be careful of how they present certain people. Especially when portraying them in such a negative way.
This film has its moments. Sure the acting is hokey, but the story is solid and very real. It has a terrifying realism to it and it makes you feel like you are watching people slowly freeze to death on the top of the world. The movie isn’t great… But it is always one that I can watch and just be fascinated by.
Final Score 2/5
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