After Gravity in 2013 and Birdman last year, both Oscared, comes Everest as the Venice Festival's opening film. Will the Working Title produced epic, about a real mountain rescue back in 1996, continue that success? If it does, the 72nd Festival can still hold its head up high against the huge and ever more important Toronto film jamboree that immediately follows it. It is on such matters of prestige that film events are judged, whether it is fair or not.
My guess is that Alberto Barbera, the popular Venice chief, has probably done it again. Everest is not a masterpiece. But as a well-acted and directed, and a not absurdly dressed up and fictionalised account of an ascent of Everest that suddenly, and almost fatally, went wrong, the film stands up well. It is at the very least a 3D spectacular that never forgets it is about people as well as the most famous mountain in the world.
These people, the group doctor explains at the start, are going to "die a little" on the way to the top because of cold, danger and particularly lack of oxygen. It frightens some, particularly the women relatives left behind. But it has to be said. Climbing mountains just because they are there is always a risky business and always will be.
The climber we watch most carefully is Jake Gyllenhaal, who has a pregnant wife (Keira Knightley) back home and who is one of those left alone when the storm breaks. He looks certain to die before helicopter rescuers can get to him. He doesn't. But he loses both hands and his natural nose to frostbite before gaining a daughter by way of compensation. Gyllenhaal is good at showing us toughness and suffering, and here he does it well again.
It must have been a tough shoot for everybody, including Icelandic director Baltazar Kormakur, who orchestrates the whole thing with a sure touch, and as importantly achieves the 3D camera work without the usual sense of straining for effect. Everest is one of those cinematic spectacles that doesn't insult the intelligence of its audience and tries to tell the truth about an extraordinary adventure as solidly and dramatically as it can.