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Double Review: Everest, A Walk In The Woods

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Everest-Walk

A Walk In The Woods synopsis: After spending two decades in England, Bill Bryson returns to the U.S., where he decides the best way to connect with his homeland is to hike the Appalachian Trail with one of his oldest friends.

Everest synopsis: A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm.

Running around a scorched world aside, this was a fantastic week for outdoorsy films. A fan of both Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’ and Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk In The Woods’, my usual Cineworld Saturday was one I entered today with slight trepidation (no one wants to see a good book ruined by a bad adaptation) but came out of thoroughly enjoying.

Although from cast to tone to style Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest and Ken Kwapis’s A Walk In The Woodsare on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to viewing pleasures, they complement each other perfectly. At face value they’re entirely different but at their cores they are both about pretty average people embarking on journeys that are, quite frankly, incredible feats of human courage and determination.

What was particularly interesting was to see how these two accounts of real events would be portrayed on film. Bryson’s real-life experience is littered with interesting lessons and humorous events with some old man frenemy bonding, whereas Krakauer’s account of the 1996 Mt Everest tragedy (admittedly, Everest is not strictly an adaptation of Krakauer’s book, but it is generally regarded as the most competent and in-depth portrayal of events that occurred) is one fraught with hard facts and a cold grimness.

In terms of danger, it is a little disappointing that A Walk In The Woods does not really hone in on any of the severity of traversing the Appalachian Trail, focusing almost entirely on the humour of two old men lumbering through woodland as Emma Thompson narrates articles outlining the deadly nature of the place – at least the book, whilst laugh out loud funny, still gets across that the ACT is not for the faint hearted. Even when Bryson and his companion face off with black bears in an embellished part of his tale there is no real danger, it’s just Robert Redford and Nick Nolte comically (the latter even more so) wailing at a treeline.

Everest-Walk-2

The story of Everest, however, needs no exaggeration, and sentimentality is scant. It is breathtaking how mechanically and without event Kormákur discards the film’s protagonists when a storm hits their summit expedition. Where AWITW’s scribes Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman try to inject humour or emotion into everything and Kwapis indulges, Everest’s William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy are storytelling Terminators and Kormákur brings their version of events to the screen with equal intensity. There is no developing plot to Everest, just the point-by-point horrifying truth.

It’s amusing that Kormákur has previously been condemned as a storyteller for not making his characters all that colourful and thorough but here it works to the film’s advantage. Jason Clarke and Keira Knightley’s expedition leader Rob Hall and his wife Jan Arnold aside (because, Hell, we need to emotionally root for something), every actor plays their role straight and simple. Yes, I am Helen Wilton. I am Base Camp Manager. I am falling apart that this disaster is happening, let me get on with it. Contrastingly, Robert Redford and Nick Nolte are on top form as inept adventurers but there is a distinct narrative disconnect in events that holds neither Bill Bryson’s nor Ken Kwapis’s usual smart and charm.

One thing both films are adept at though is holding your attention to what is happening to the characters on the screen so strictly that you barely have time to actually appreciate the scenic beauty of where they are each set. The Appalachian Trail is 2,200 miles of gorgeous wildlife and natural sights that can barely be described by words, and Mount Everest (though filming took place on other mountains) is 30,000 feet of snow, rock and powerhouse nature that can be regarded only with awe. Whatever the two films have to say on humanity, sheer natural beauty (even if it can be brutal in one) is prevalent in both.

For two films that have very little plot, Everest and A Walk In The Woods make for a very compelling three and a half hours of adventure entertainment. Although I suspect I would not have enjoyed AWITW had it been the only film I watched, I think it’s okay for Everest to pick up the filmic slack. Have you never watchedBattleship and then Titanic, or Joe Dirt and then Forrest Gump? It’s like the best of both worlds: you indulge in some laziness and then have the thrill of your life; isn’t that all anyone ever wants?

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