Everest, which opens Friday on IMAX screens before expanding nationwide, is not based on Jon Kraukauer’s bestselling book Into Thin Air. Yes, Krakauer is a character in the movie, played by House of Cards actor Michael Kelly, but the film, which was adapted by William Nicholson (Les Miserables) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), does not stem from his memoir.
Rather, according to Everest director Baltasar Kormákur (The Deep) the movie is based initally on climber Beck Weathers’ book Left For Dead, which accounts the climber’s harrowing experience that cost him both hands and his nose. Josh Brolin portrays Weathers in the movie. But perhaps more importantly, Everest also incorporates lines directly from the audio tapes of that day — tapes Kormakur, lead actor Jason Clarke (who plays climbing leader Rob Hall), and producer Tim Bevan listened to with Jan Arnold (Hall’s wife), fellow climber Guy Cotter, Rob’s daughter Sara Hall, expedition associate Helen Wilton, and the doctor on the mountain that day, Dr. Caroline MacKenzie.
“None of the books that have been written had access to these tapes,” said Kormákur, adding that the crew of people who were on the ground that day hadn’t heard the tapes in 18 years. “They put them away and wanted to try to move onward with their life. But they listened to it with us which was incredibly moving and, of course, very traumatic for them to go through again. But it was also very informative because we got all the small details. There were very different stories out there in many of those books and we wanted to try to understand what was misunderstood. And a lot of this came through those tapes.”
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Prior to the audio session Kormákur made it clear to the survivors and family members that he wasn’t interested in glossing over the gritty details of that day to tell a hero’s story. He was more interested in re-creating the actual events that led to the demise of eight climbers.
“This wasn’t going to be an obituary,” he said. “I wanted to humanize them. I didn’t want to ridicule or create a villain that doesn’t exit… or a hero that didn’t exist. I wanted to be true and show the mistakes and failures that happened on the mountain. This isn’t about a group of people who go up a mountain and get blown off by a storm. They were in real bad shape before the storm came in. The storm was just the final thing that finished them off.”
So what about the Krakauer book — the one that has familiarized most people with this tragedy? That book was never part of the equation. According to Kormákur, the project that was offered him didn’t include the Krakauer piece. Plus, that’s a story Kormákur says he wasn’t interested in telling.
“To be honest I wasn’t that interested in telling a story about a writer on a mountain. I’ve seen a lot of movies about writers,” he says with a laugh. “His book is a first-person account and there are a lot of things that he assumes or thought that happened that didn’t really happen. This is the story of a group of people who are going up this mountain and I wanted to be true to that.”
Everest will expand to theaters nationwide on Sept. 25.