Given the hundreds of films I’ve reviewed, I am absolutely flummoxed that I have never before covered 1998’s IMAX film Everest.
To start with, I’m a mountaineering literature junkie. Further, the film stars Ed Viesturs, who is to mountaineering what Aaron Rodgers is to football. And to top it off, it’s pure documentary footage of the most absorbing high-altitude tragedy in the history of mountaineering.
In 1996, Viesturs and climber/filmmaker David Breashears headlined a small international team whose goal was to shoot the first IMAX footage of a climb to the highest point on Earth. The planned summit team also included Spanish rock-climber Araceli Segarra, Austria’s Robert Schauer, and Nepal’s Jamling Tenzing Norgay–son of Tenzing Norgay, who was on the rope with Edmund Hillary when they were first to Everest’s summit in 1953. Viesturs’ new wife Paula was also on hand as the team’s base camp manager.
The expedition was well organized, and participating members were chosen not only for their climbing ability but for their human-interest value. To a certain extent, the documentary was pre-scripted after a fashion, as shooting with an IMAX camera on Everest is not something easily accomplished. As Everest veterans, Breasears and Viesturs had a good idea ahead of time what they would need for shots, where they could get them, and what kind of “story” would lend itself to being told with those shots.
So there was drama enough with the usual threat of avalanches in the Khumbu Icefall, Norgay following in his father’s footsteps, Segarra’s attempt to be the first Spanish woman to the top of Everest, and the domestic intrigue of the Viesturs’ honeymoon.
What couldn’t have been planned, and what no one expected, was that the IMAX team would be on the mountain during the catastrophic events that claimed the lives of eight climbers from three other expeditions on their summit day.
The event spawned numerous books (including Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air) and a TV movie, and has of late been the inspiration for the brand new IMAX drama also titled Everest.
Breashears’ IMAX team was a couple camps lower awaiting their own turn at the summit in 1996, and when the disaster struck, Viesturs, Breashears, Segarra, and Norgay abandoned their own climb in order to help evacuate badly-injured climber Beck Weathers, who had been left for dead during the storm near Camp V on Everest’s South Col.
After the remainder of the three decimated expeditions cleared the mountain, the IMAX team regrouped to once more head to the summit.
Everest is remarkable for not only managing to capture a landmark summit attempt on IMAX, but for what it also happened to capture of a unique human drama. Several of the climbers who died that year were good friends of Viesturs and Breashears.
Whenever I happen to catch a snippet of this film while channel-flipping on TV or browsing the web, I just can’t take my eyes off it. It is simply documentary-filmmaking gold.
So much of the craft is being in the right place at the right time; but you also have to put yourself in position to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Everest is a lifetime achievement for a filmmaker like Breashears.
If you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend taking 44 minutes out of your life to witness a one-of-a-kind “reality” experience.
Everest is available to stream on Amazon.