IRVINE — The makers of "Everest" fill the monster Imax screen with images that 99.99% of the people who inhabit this planet will never see. Their camera, 40 pounds lighter than the conventional Imax camera and bundled up for the subzero temperatures, rappels down rock faces and tracks a helicopter skimming a valley in the lap of the Himalaya.
Guided by the narration of Liam Neeson and fitting score of Steve Wood and Daniel May, it peers deep into a crevice of blue-white ice and follows the spring light into every last cranny of the mountain's facade.
In the latest release from MacGillivray Freeman Films in Laguna Beach, co-director David Breashears leads the Imax crew and leaves the viewer gasping for air along with his team as they inch upward. They step over the spent oxygen canisters of expeditions past to a summit decorated over the years with Tibetan prayer flags and mementos.
But, as most of the world knows, a disaster in the form of a killer storm tainted that glorious moment in May 1996. As the 40-minute film opens, we meet the men and woman of the Imax team--elite climbers Ed Viesturs, Jamling Norgay and Araceli Segarra--whose tortuous ascent will seem like a cakewalk once viewers witness, via sometimes excessive voice-overs and still photos, the death march of climbers advancing before them.
Monitoring the progress of these other expeditions by radio, Imax crew members leave behind their camera gear and help rescue some of the climbers stranded along a ridge at 26,000 feet. Still, eight die, including the leaders of two other expeditions.
The tragedy and heroics of that day, already thoroughly examined in an ABC-TV special and the Jon Krakauer bestseller "Into Thin Air," gripped the world. The Imax format tends to swallow the nuances of human drama--a limitation that is somewhat offset in this film with video footage capturing the emotions.
With major backing from the National Science Foundation, "Everest" also packs in a geology lesson on the formation of the Himalaya and some vocabulary words (hypoxia: a condition caused by a lack of oxygen at high altitudes), but its triumph is in transporting mortals to the top of the Earth.
"Everest." A MacGillivray Freeman Films production in association with Arcturus Motion Pictures. Producer/director: Greg MacGillivray. Expedition leader/co-director/cinematographer: David Breashears. Co-director/co-writer/editor/producer: Stephen Judson. Producer: Alec Lorimore. Assistant cameraman: Robert Schauer. Climbers: Ed Viesturs, Jamling Norgay, Araceli Segarra. Running time: 40 minutes.
* At the Edwards Imax Theatres at the Irvine Spectrum.