'Everest' Scales The Box Office

Just because the show about nothing has "Seined" off, don't just sit around and do nothing on Thursday nights. Spend the time writing that novel, mastering that instrument, or better yet, climb Mt. Everest.

At least that's what it feels like to see "Everest," the IMAX film that scales the world's highest peak with cinematographer David Breashears, his crew of 11 climbers and 16 Sherpas, and a clunky 42-pound movie camera.

Last year's PBS special about Mt. Everest (also by Breashears) was good and Jon Krakauer's bestselling book "Into Thin Air" even better, but there's nothing like the IMAX experience to land you on that 29,028-foot mountain.

Every step across a crevasse, every glance toward the summit, and every breath of oxygen-thin air might as well be yours. The huge screen, cliffhanger seats, and crystal-clear images create a virtual climbing experience not to be missed.

I'm not the only fan. Since it premired last March, "Everest" has been one of the most popular movies in North America. Just last weekend, it ranked No.16 at the box office, ahead of Oscar winners "Good Will Hunting" and "As Good as It Gets." The 44-minute film is showing on 37 screens, and has earned almost $12 million. It has catapulted IMAX into the big time and, of course, folks there couldn't be more thrilled. "In the world of large-format, 'Everest' is our 'Titanic,' " says producer Greg MacGillivray. "It's a whole new world for us."

This film's blockbuster-like success is as close as it gets to Hollywood glamour. In May 1996, Breashears's crew was just behind the now-famous expedition that got caught in a sudden blizzard. After learning that eight climbers had been killed, he considered turning back. But one thought kept him going: "I just kept thinking that the mountain is so big and so majestic and so awe-inspiring," he says. "I wanted to give people a chance to feel what I feel when I'm there." Narrator Liam Neeson describes what happened, but the film in no way sensationalizes the tragedy.

I had never quite understood what drives people to climb such heights and take such risks. Intellectually, I knew it had to do with pushing limits, realizing dreams, being surrounding by nature's beauty, and for many, connecting with a higher source. But watching those climbers reach the summit and their fatigue give way to joy and elation, I began to get it. And to feel it, as Breashears had hoped. They were at the top of the world in more ways than one.

* Comments on this section? Send them to wolcott@csmonitor.com

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