Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: What’s going on with the two studio-backed movies titled Everest, about two spectacularly different incidents that took place on the same hill? Well let me tell you. Both films have weathered missteps, but the filmmakers behind each say they intend to scale the mountain soon. Everest, the Doug Liman-directed film at Sony, is now bent on starting production in March, and that meant losing Tom Hardy, who was going to play George Mallory, the famous British mountaineer who rallied a nation with his attempts to conquer Everest. Scheduling didn’t work with Hardy.

The front-runner to replace Hardy right now is Benedict Cumberbatch, but other actors in the mix to play Mallory and Australian rival George Finch include Joel Kinnaman, James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston, Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Dan Stevens, Matthew Goode, and Jim Sturgess. I’ve seen press speculation that Cumberbatch may have lost his luster because the Julian Assange pic The Fifth Estate failed at the box office, but that seems harsh. None of the current batch of emerging stars means much of anything at the box office, so the question becomes, is Cumberbatch an actor who elevates a film with his presence? The answer is a resounding yes, and he has Mallory’s regal bearing. The film is being produced by Jennifer Klein along with Liman and his Hypnotic partner Dave Bartis. Sheldon Turner wrote the script about Mallory, who disappeared on his third attempt in 1924, at age 37. He was last seen 600 feet from the top, and many think he made it before perishing on the way back down. His body stayed up there until 1999.

As for the other Everest, the one that Working Title and Universal are making? That project also has weathered adversity, with Emmett/Furla Films recently exiting as co-financier. EFF made the deals and were cash flowing the movie but backed out when the company and the filmmakers couldn’t come to terms on capping the budget. Working Title is working quickly to lock in a new co-financier to share the risk with Universal. The Deep helmer Baltasar Kormakur is directing. He still hopes to get underway in November with the mountain climbing disaster I told you in July had Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke attached to tell the harrowing story of the 1996 disastrous expedition to scale Mount Everest, when a sudden blinding storm hit. By the time it was all over, eight climbers died. The tale was first made famous by Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, his superb first-person account of being among the lucky ones to make it back down the mountain. This film will be sourced from various books and interviews with survivors.

Despite the different story lines, each studio wants its film to be first to scale the mountain. I’m not sure there can be only one. While I have to be hounded by the wife just to climb a ladder and I hate the cold, I can’t get enough of these endurance-testing mountain climbing thin-air adventure movies. If the studios stick by their timetables, it’s hard to imagine that Everest won’t finish first: the Everest being mounted by Universal, Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, and director Kormakur.

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