The release of trailers has gotten to be a more significant event over recent years, where people look towards a trailer, or even the release of a teaser trailer, with almost as much anticipation as they have for the release of the actual movie.
While this anticipation ultimately increases buzz for a movie (See: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Avengers, Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises, and pretty much every big-budget movie that came out in the last 5 years) sometimes trailers can be misleading about the tone and intent of the story the filmmakers are trying to tell.
Yesterday the trailer for Everest was released, telling a story inspired by true events about a, to put it very mildly, “troubled” ascent of Mount Everest.
The U.S. trailer stars innocuously enough, with overhead shots of the famous mountain with a voice over by Jason Clarke as guide Rob Hall, stating that humans were not meant to survive at the cruising altitude of a 747 (For reference, Everest towers 29,029 thousand feet above sea level). When climbing at those altitudes, climbers can experience hypothermia and frostbite, hypoxia, High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which is when fluid builds up in the lungs, and High-Altitude Cerebral Edema or HACE, when the brain swells with fluid. All of these are common on Everest, and many of these happened during the 1996 Everest climb the movie is based off of. But the trailer doesn’t have time to delve into these particulars, simply stating that the climber’s bodies are “literally dying.” Good hook.
From there, the trailer introduces characters and illustrates the physical perils of trying to climb the world’s tallest mountain, showing shaky ropes, collapsing ice bridges and precarious ladders. Then trouble strikes in the form of a raging storm and suddenly it feels like we’re watching a run of the mill adventure movie where the team of climbers will band together to beat the odds and make it back home so the expedition leader can come home safely to his wife and unborn baby. The only difference to this story is that it’s set on Everest, so it’s “fresh” and “exciting.”
This happy and inspiring illusion isn’t the story of the 1996 Mt. Everest season. Why? Because Everest is based on the book Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer, which is a dark and personal account of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster when 8 climbers got stranded up on the peak during a blizzard and died, making it the deadliest day of the deadliest year on record until 2014. Krakauer, as a journalist and climber on Rob Hall’s climbing team, got to see the disaster first-hand, watching as his friends and teammates climbed to the top of the peak, unaware that almost half of his team wouldn’t return home.
Into Thin Air, isn’t a happy or inspiring book, and based on Krakauer’s other work his tone isn’t surprising. For context, he’s written Under the Banner of Heaven, which explores Mormon Fundamentalism, tracking the story of the Lafferty brothers after they murdered a woman and her baby girl in the name of God; Into the Wild, where he tells the story of Chris McCandless, who sold all his worldly belongings to go live in the wilds of Alaska, only to be discovered dead after eating toxic seeds; Where Men Win Glory, telling the story of Pat Tillman who gave up a future in the NFL to serve in the military only to be killed by friendly fire after an elaborate cover-up, and most recently Missoula, which discusses the issue of rape and the stunning lack of prosecuted cases in Missoula, Montana, often going into vivid detail of testimony from women about their rapes. Krakauer tells stories of extremes, and more often than not his stories do not have happy endings.
Everest is going to be a story about physical and mental extremes, and it will likely be more similar in tone to Into Thin Air than any of the blockbuster adventure movies that have come out in the last 10 years. But the trailer gives no indication that this will be the case, instead introducing us to Rob Hall, Doug Hansen, Beck Weathers and Scott Fisher. While House of Cards’ Michael Kelly makes an appearance as Jon Krakauer, the trailer doesn’t do anything to indicate his role in the disaster, simply passing him off as another teammate.
What’s interesting is that the international trailer for the movie gives off a different impression, one that is closer in tone to Into Thin Air, with the preview immediately jumping into the characters struggling in bad conditions on the mountain before leading into character introductions. This trailer is less “hopeful” in tone than the US trailer, as there is no mention of banding together or fighting through the trouble. It still has its cheeseball moments, but the outlook is much more grim–– something much more fitting for a deadly climb.
The Mount Everest Disaster was the deadliest day on Everest during the deadliest season the mountain had ever seen until the 2014 Everest Avalanche, taking 8 lives in a single day in a season that saw 12 fatalities. During this expedition, climbers experienced frostbite, causing one survivor to lose their arm, nose, and 4 of their remaining fingers and toes. Two climbers fell off the edge of the mountain after trying to climb down, two were left at the peak after succumbing to hypoxia and frostbite (where their bodies still rest, almost 20 years later), two climbers were left for dead less than 350 feet from their tents after succumbing to the cold, and one climber may have walked off the edge of the mountain, their thinking clouded by the lack of oxygen. While the storm set off the disaster, many other factors came into play, namely the inexperience of the teams that flocked to Everest, setting their sights on the peak despite lacking any high-altitude climbing experience, putting added pressure on their guides to get them to the top. It will be interesting to see how the movie addresses these other factors and where it places the blame, if it does so at all.
Everest should have a good story to tell, and after the 2015 Nepal earthquake a story about the dangers of climbing Everest has almost as much relevance as it did in 1996. Despite the conflicting tone of the trailers, I’m hopeful that Everest will tell the story of the Mount Everest Disaster carefully and respectfully, staying true to the tone of the tragedy.