After a very long week, at long last Storm Over Everest aired on Frontline last night. I must say, as excited as I was about this particular Frontline (though I do love the series) I had mixed feelings about the Breashears doc. It was an interesting and perhaps untold account of the tragic day on the mountain in 1996, especially since a couple of the participants spoke of the events for the first time, most notably, Sandy Pittman. It looked like Breashears was telling what Jon Krakauer didn’t with his magnificent Into Thin Air. The problem with that, though, is that the doc didn’t do what Frontline does best – it didn’t investigate what went wrong but rather told how scary and frightening it was. We needed that tell-tale Frontline narrator asking key questions about what went wrong.
Also, I don’t know why they didn’t talk about Rob Hall’s famous final words to his wife. Was it because most people interested in the story have already heard what Hall said? Or was Breashears more interested in the participants’ experience of the events than the events themselves? Either way, he made a stunning film, one I will probably watch again very soon.
The choice to re-create the high winds on the mountain that night was truly the best thing about Storm Over Everest. Who hasn’t imagined what it must have been like, how bad it must have been to grind the climbers to a halt. Breashears did a great job of showing, rather than telling. I suppose I felt that with the appearance of Sandy Hill and all I expected more of the controversies to be discussed and they were just sort of left out. It was, perhaps, a kind decision by the filmmaker but it came at a cost.
The website is a wealth of Everest resources. You can also watch the entire film online.