Many of us have read John Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, about the disastrous expeditions to Mt Everest’s summit in 1996 – eight climbers died. Over the years, varying opinions have surfaced about the wrong and right things that happened that day. Krakauer was a non-paying journalist there to document the ascent of one commercial party, having possibly snubbed the other. While the leaders of the two parties were friendly, there was also a competitive aspect to their relationship, which added to the drama. Whether this competition led to mistakes in judgment is up in the air. I wasn’t there, so I can’t say.
In case you missed it in theaters, the movie Everest was released this week on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital download. The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, and many other fine actors, with believable performances, more nuanced than might have been expected.
I won’t give away anything about the movie, which hews pretty closely to my recollection of Krakauer’s book, but will say the performances are top-notch and the cinematography amazingly well done. I’m sure that a lot of the scenes were done either with green screens or computer-aided, yet the movie feels seamless, as if we were actually on the mountain.
Bonus features include looks at the actors’ preparation, the studio’s work in simulating Everest, a look at making the movie itself, and recollections from those who were actually there.
I watched this movie on the plane en route to the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2016, enjoyed it immensely, and would recommend it as a balanced look at an activity and an event that are often misunderstood and misportrayed by mainstream media.
In a completely different vein, Meru, directed by Jimmy Chin with wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, is the antithesis of the large, commercial expeditions to mountains like Everest. Climbers Conrad Anker, Chin himself, and relative rookie Renan Ozturk team up to climb the Shark’s Fin of India’s Mount Meru, an unclimbed peak attempted by earlier mentors but never achieved.
While sponsored by The North Face (and other brands), this is a distinctly more grubby look at what it takes to climb tall mountains. After attempting, and failing, the ascent of the Shark’s Fin, the men retreat home to continue their lives. A tragedy (Ozark was severely injured in a skiing accident) and a near-miss (Chin was miraculously unhurt after being caught in an avalanche) set up the possible return of the trio to give Mount Meru another shot.
Known as the “anti-Everest, Mount Meru is a gorgeous mountain that lends itself as a jaw-dropping backdrop to the climbers’ story. It’s an interesting look at how the team needs to trust each other, have the determination and patience to wait for proper conditions, and then deal with issues that have nothing to do with the climb itself (injury, family left behind, etc.).
I watched this on the plane home from ORSHow, a perfect bookend to the trip and an interesting counterpoint to Everest. Beautifully filmed, with appealing real-life characters, Meru gives us a small glimpse into the world of high-altitude climbers. While you may not be inspired to go mountaineering or even understand why people do it, it’s a well-crafted movie worth watching.