Lately my taste in “movies” has been so buried in the documentary facet that I can’t seem to tear myself away to watch anything else. My curiosity was peaked when I saw a listing for Frontline – Storm Over Everest about a disastrous accident occurring on the mountain in May 1996.
Storm is a documentary whose end is known from the beginning, so there is nothing to give away. On May 10, 1996 three teams of climbers made it to the summit of Everest after the many weeks it takes to get there from wherever you start the climb. A couple of the climbers ran into physical problems due to general physical strain for some or endemic problems for a couple others. So the descent of all teams back to the highest base camp was going to be delayed. This might not have been a problem all in all, but a sudden and strong storm popped up. It lighted on the top couple thousand feet of the mountain trapping about two dozen climbers in one full night and part of a day in full-on blizzard conditions in the low oxygen environment of 27,000-ish feet.
Storm is essentially 2 films. PBS’s Frontline co-sponsored the filming and it is part of their collection for 2006. I love Frontline. I call it PBS’s “20/20” because the series is allowed to be more openly biased than many of the other documentaries on PBS (please notice I said “more”). The tone of this format can add great flavor to political and social topics. This seems to be the impetus behind the dozen or so storytellers intended to recount the events of the few days in May covered here.
The second “film” is that Storm was made specifically for the IMAX theater system. Audiences apparently have become bored with just the large and majestic and the loud and amazing productions of the best the world and cosmos can offer. For a while now, it seems that the audience wants a story, and a scary story is best. I call it shark-mania (c’mon, just how much new information can we get in 51 weeks about sharks to make SHARK WEEK on Discovery be even remotely new). Storm is the mountain version of this mania.
Unfortunately I cannot say with true authority just how amazing the sights and sounds would be in that arena. I can say that the only thing that was not unnecessarily complicated and maddening about Storm was the visuals. I have a wide enough understanding of film in general and presentation specifically to know that the stark brilliant colors, harsh shadows and almost unreal landscapes should have left most viewers agape. This is due to the director/cinematographer personalities of Dave Breashears. These abilities meant that even on a mediocre screen (by and large) I was enthralled enough to re-view more than one scene.
Frankly, the only reason to watch the film is to “see” it. The scope and range of the landscapes are eye-crack. The stills are small tastes of other addictive substances. Were it just the visuals, I would have few things to gripe about.
On its face, Storm should be a wild ride for people who love to hear harrowing tales of real danger, the kind where not everyone makes it out alive. Unfortunately, these tales are confusing at best—with 17 narrators over the course of a hundred minute film, keeping any of them straight becomes an annoying task. Given this, the viewer would need to pull what I call lobster-duty (the ratio of meat to shell for a lobster is 1-to-4). She or he would have to really want to follow these stories carefully to deal with all the mess.
The situation is made worse because I found it impossible to like any of the climbers who paid to climb (by and large the guides and Sherpa came across as a professional in a dangerous profession would). In fact, I became angry at two of the survivors. If you opt to see the film I will not give names or motives. I was also made very jumpy by the Taiwanese survivor, Makalu Gau. He gave an exaggerated pantomime of each portion of his tale so that it was like watching kabuki practice—I was edging on a panic attack (that is glib, but I’m not kidding at how distracting he was).
If, however, you are a fan of true naturalism, Storm will be an impressive story. Naturalism’s axiom is that nature doesn’t care about you or what skills you have; the expert has the same chance, ultimately, of surviving a disaster as someone with no skills at all. To get this tale, you don’t have to pay close attention to the otherwise confounding babble.
As a whole, the film not only fails, it is irritating or worse because of the talky bits. For a general audience, I can’t think of a reason to recommend it since muting it only removes the narration but still means you have to put up with the visual interruption the tellers screen-time requires.
On a personal note, I was actually made incredibly angry at the climbers due to attitudes and how they presented these. I was in the process of writing a long rant but have decided to put it aside for a few days (I bought Jon Krakauer’s account of the eventsInto Thin Air and will flesh out the rant using his material to augment the information in the film reviewed here
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
What did you think of this review?