Why the hell do people want to climb? That's one question that won't be answered by Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur's 3-D true-life climbing-disaster epic Everest, which details -- from another point of view -- the tragic 1996 expedition previously chronicled by Jon Krakauer in his 1997 mega-bestseller Into Thin Air. (Krakauer appears as a character in the movie, though his book is not the source for the script, written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy.) Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal play rival guides who team up to lead climbers -- each of whom has paid a hefty sum -- right up to the tippy-top of this terrible, invincible mountain. An unanticipated storm spells disaster. Who will die and who will survive? Whose pregnant wife will be hanging on the telephone, waiting for word of whether or not her husband will survive? (She's played by Keira Knightley.)
Everest is visually splendid, though it loses a few points for its murkiness in rendering its main characters as distinct individuals. But as a picture about tragedy, despair, and snow, it's pretty effective: The superb 3-D effects — including craggy vistas clad in frosty white icing, dangerously seductive in their beauty, and yawning cracks that seem to drop into oblivion -- are likely to make you feel very small and insignificant in the context of nature and her merciless whimsy. If you've ever dreamed of climbing 29,000 feet of mountain in unpredictable weather, see Everest before you strap on those crampons. This is man-v.-nature, big-time.