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Everest IMAX Puts You There Without Getting Cold

By Vladimir Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

Documentary; Omnimax, 70 mm.

Directed by David Breashears

A MacGillivray Freeman Films Production

At the Boston Museum of Science

Call (617) 723-2500 for information

Everest is an unusual Omnimax documentary in that it features something previous movies were lacking - a story. If you recall even the excellent movies like Yellowstone or The Living Seas, you will remember a collection of spectacular shots connected only by the fact that they were all taken in approximately the same geographical locale. This is not the case here.

The movie tells the story of an expedition climbing Mount Everest. The mountain's name, by the way, is inherited from the days of the British Empire, when Nepal explorer General Everest "discovered" it, replacing the native name of Chomolungma. Everest is the highest mountain in the world, with a height of 29,028 feet high. Because of tectonic plate movement, it is growing approximately 4 millimeters each year.

The story of the climb works extremely well since it has a natural development arc. As it gets harder and harder to climb the higher they are, tension builds in this first-rate adventure. There are dangers at every step: huge ice flows, steep inclines of bare rock, deep crevasses, turbulent storms, frigid temperatures, and - perhaps most dangerous - lack of air. It takes time for the heart to compensate for the lack of oxygen by increasing the breathing and heartbeat rates and by producing more oxygen-carrying red blood cells. If the climbers don't acclimate, they run the risk of greatly increased blood pressure, persistent cough (which can be so severe that it causes cracked ribs), fluid-filled lungs and brains, rapid decrease of mental abilities, and possibly death. Add those to the inherent physical challenges posed by the climb, and you realize why Everest, with all its cinematic splendor, doesn't really make you want to assault the peak yourself.

Not only does Everest do an excellent job conveying most of perils and rewards of a climb, it also introduces a truly fascinating band of adventurers. There's Jamling Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa guide, whose father, Tenzing Norgay, made the first successful climb of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. There's Ed Viesturs, who having reached the summit five times previously, this time tries the climb without any supplementary oxygen. It also happens to be his honeymoon, although his wife stays at base camp and can contact him only by radio. There's Araceli Segarra, who, if successful, would be the first Spanish woman to summit, and who, mark my words, will be cast as a Bond girl one of these days, since she is as physically capable as she is charismatic.

With a few other people, they ascend the mountain, lugging with them not only tents, clothing, food, equipment, and supplementary oxygen, but also the heavy Omnimax camera and hundreds of roll of film (one roll, by the way, records only 90 seconds, since it's used up at the rate of 5.6 feet per second). Loading the new roll of film into the camera also presents a formidable challenge since it has to be done with bare hands, which is not a pleasant task at temperatures below minus forty. The climb is chronicled in footage which is both breathtakingly beautiful and harshly realistic - this is definitely not a hike in the park. The conditions are harrowing, and, in a tragic turn of events, an unexpected storm ravages another expedition, leaving frozen bodies in its wake.

There are a few things that could have been done better in this film: The shots of the summit itself make it look just like a pile of snow in your yard (although I presume that the overwhelming scale of the peak can not be conveyed even by the Omnimax camera); the sequence of a dramatic helicopter rescue is obviously a re-enactment clearly because it is filmed from another helicopter; and narrator Liam Neeson has a low, husky voice, just like all the other men on the climbing team, so it's frequently impossible to determine the source of the voice-over (they should have gotten a female narrator).

But these are just minor gripes; everything else combines to make Everest perhaps the best Omnimax movie ever. It frequently feels like an Indiana Jones adventure. It offers exotic locales, harrowing adventures, and most importantly, a gripping story.