Baltasar Kormakur Promotes 'Everest' in Beijing

Baltasar Kormakur

"It's your mountain — at least half of it," said the director at a preview screening in China, where the Universal mountaineering epic opens Nov. 3.

Everest director Balthasar Kormakur is hoping China's abiding love of the grand canvas will translate into big returns for his mountaineering epic set on the world's tallest peak.

Kormakur arrived in Beijing this week to promote Everest ahead of the Universal film's China launch next Tuesday. At a press conference on Wednesday, a local reporter asked the director how he thought Chinese audiences would respond to his movie.

"I'm not a specialist on China and it's my first trip here, but everything feels very modern and more up-to-date than you are usually told," he said. "Therefore, I think they will relate to it like any other people in the world."

"But, it's your mountain — at least half of it," he added. Mt. Everest straddles the border between Nepal and China, in an area that China refers to as the Tibet Autonomous Region.

"This is a special chance to travel to Everest and see it in all it's magnitude," Kormakur said.  

Everest, which is based on the real events of a 1996 climbing disaster, was produced for $55 million and has grossed $173.96 million globally. China and Japan, the world's second and third largest film markets, respectively, are the final two territories in which it will open (the film bows in Japan Nov. 6).

Kormakur said the popularity of IMAX and other larges formats in China should play to the film's strengths.

"It's a movie about the biggest mountain in the world, so the bigger the screen, the bigger the story becomes," he said. "But I also like the intimacy of being on the mountain with these characters — the performances are all about subtlety."

Starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal, Everest will screen in various formats in China: 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D and China Giant Screen.

The popularity of 3D and IMAX can be a powerful revenue driver in the Chinese market.

IMAX currently operates 260 giant screens in mainland China, but the company has a backlog of deals for new sites that will double the current figure within two to three years. China soon will exceed North America's 434 IMAX screen total to become the exhibitor's most important market.

Duncan Clark, Universal Pictures' president of international distribution, says hopes are high that Everest can continue the studio's Chinese winning streak.

"We're thrilled that it got a China release date," Clark tells THR. "It's been a phenomenal year for us here."

Last summer, Universal's Furious 7 grossed a record-breaking $390.9 million in China, while Jurassic World pulled in $228.74 million for the studio.

Sources tell THR that Universal has submitted another of its 2015 hits to the China Film Bureau for local release consideration — rap biopic Straight Outta Compton. Expectations aren't high that the Chinese authorities will approve the film, however.

"It's not one I would bet on," says the source.