Monday, September 28, 2015

Because It Is There


In September 1998, I moved to Japan to teach English at Urawa Tandai Junior College (now Urawa University). I lived in a fourplex subsidized by the college, and the three other residents were also gaijin instructors. The teacher I replaced had left behind stacks of books, and one night, lying on my futon, I cracked open Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. I couldn’t put the book down and finished it that night.

Into Thin Air came out in 1997, and in it, Krakauer gives a detailed account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, of which he had first-hand experience. Krakauer was one of the climbers who set out on May 10, 1996, to summit Everest, and while he did make it to the top and back, eight other climbers lost their lives that day and the next.

Despite its tragic, cautionary-tale aspects, the story can stir awe and wonder in us adventure-seekers. The summer after reading Into Thin Air, I climbed Mount Whitney (14,505 feet), and the year after that, Mount Fuji (12,389 feet). If those heights look like a long way up, consider that Mount Everest (29,029 feet) is twice as high as Whitney. That’s where the awe and wonder play in.

Two weeks ago, having just watched To Sir, with Love, members of the DC Crew were chatting in the parking lot outside of the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room, when David asked, “Any interest in Everest?” I had an interest, but it was Jo who really wanted to see that film. (Driving home, I asked her why. In a nutshell, Jo likes man-versus-nature stories because they show how characters react in extreme situations. Also, she’s something of an adrenaline junkie.)

As the screening drew near, my interest in the film grew. I wondered how Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur would handle the story, which involves several players. And how closely would the film follow Krakauer’s book?

On Sunday, September 20, Jo and I took our seats in the screening room, ready with the stylish 3-D glasses that David provides for special screenings. (On that particular night, we noted, the 3-D glasses resembled mountaineering goggles.) “Never let go” is one of the film’s taglines, and for the next two hours, Everest pulled us in and didn’t let go.

Everest works on several levels. It has crisp scenes, a riveting score and stunning, realistic visuals. Early on, Base Camp’s colorful tents and flags, set against the snowy terrain, make you want to be there. Later, especially farther up the mountain, once the rogue storm hits, it’s the last place you’d want to be. Depicted in this way, Everest becomes a character, which transforms from tranquil beauty to punishing beast.

Although the story involves several players—including Adventure Consultants expedition leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), Mountain Madness expedition leader Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), climber Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly)—the film rounds out its characters and makes them visually distinct (with Rob in red, Scott in turquoise, Beck in black and blue, etc.). The characters and action are easy to follow.

Another plus: Everest is not the film version of Into Thin Air. I loved the book, but it is a personal account, and Kormákur made a wise choice in presenting the story as an ensemble piece (although Krakauer may not think so).

One part of the ensemble that stood out to me, while reading the book and again while watching the film, was Beck Weathers. What a name, similar to Pamela Dare's character name: each contains a verb, and each defines the individual. The difference is that one is a fictional character, while the other is a real person. Beck Weathersand he does.

In the end, it was another top-notch time in the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room. David was in peak performance, as usual. Jo and I left the place feeling elevated.

I'd like to leave you with this apt line of dialogue, spoken by Russian guide
Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson): “The last word always belongs to the mountain.”

Jason Clarke and the real Rob Hall.
Jake Gyllenhaal and the real Scott Fischer.
Josh Brolin and the real Beck Weathers.
Michael Kelly and the real Jon Krakauer.

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