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Peter T. Chattaway


"Something Big and Beautiful and Greater Than Me"

On the surface, it might not seem that films like The Martian, Everest, and The Walk have a lot in common, beyond their spectacular 3D imagery. The first film is a sci-fi thriller about an astronaut stranded on Mars, the second tells the tragic true story of a hiking expedition that went wrong, and the third is practically a light comedy—also based on a true story—about a wire-walker who walked between the World Trade Center towers in the early 1970s. But all three films, which came out in theaters within a few weeks of one another, do have this much in common: they are about the confidence, and sometimes hubris, of bold, brilliant people who think they can outsmart death.

Everest focuses on a commercial hiking expedition led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a New Zealander who offered amateurs a chance to climb the tallest mountain in the world and get back down again safely for the princely sum of $65,000. In an early meeting with his clients, Hall tells them he is taking them into the "death zone"—a place so high above sea level that human life cannot survive—and he tells them that they will be "literally dying" while they are up there. But he assures them that he has never lost a customer yet, and that he has taken all the precautions he needs to ensure that he can get the team back down again before any permanent damage is done.

From the beginning, the film lets us know the odds are against Hall. An opening title card tells us that one in four professional climbers have died while climbing Everest, and Hall's clients take note of a memorial to the mountain's victims. But Hall, who pioneered the concept of commercial guiding on Everest, has already taken 19 clients up and down the mountain without a single fatality over the previous four years, and his success has inspired a number of imitators—which causes problems of its own when it turns out that too many people are now trying to cross the same ladder bridges ...

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