The ill-fated 1996 expedition up Mount Everest is the subject of "Everest," Baltasar Kormákur's IMAX-sized adventure epic. Shot on location with a stellar ensemble cast, it's full of roaring avalanches, screaming storms and white-knuckle moments set against an awe-inspiring backdrop. It's big-screen entertainment that packs a visceral punch. Its emotional impact, though, may sneak up on you.

"Everest" recounts the same story as "Into Thin Air," Jon Krakauer's best-selling book, and though it isn't cited as the movie's source the characters will be familiar to readers. Jason Clarke plays Rob Hall, leader of Adventure Consultants, whose latest clients are an intriguing mixed bag: the wealthy Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), the humble mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) and Krakauer himself (Michael Kelly), among others. Thanks to Hall's track record of success, rival guides like Scott Fischer (a laid-back Jake Gyllenhaal) are starting to crowd in. It doesn't bode well: A 29,000-foot-tall mountain is not the best place for free-market competition.

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In many ways, "Everest" is a throwback to the grand old disaster films of the 1970s like "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Airport." Occasionally it stumbles into some of the same pitfalls: With so many characters jockeying for screen time -- Emily Watson and Sam Worthington play Hall's base-camp commanders, while Robin Wright and Keira Knightley play helpless spouses at home -- we can lose track of who's who. And spectacle, of course, takes precedence over all.

Still, what a spectacle! Shot partly at the magnificent Himalayan mountain itself, "Everest" puts you squarely in the ice-cold hell of it all. (It was also filmed in the Italian Alps and, though you'd never notice, on stages at England's Pinewood Studios.) And what a cast -- particularly Hawkes as the underdog Hansen and Brolin as Weathers, whose big-money swagger hides a hole in his soul. They and others provide the movie with crucial, human-scale moments.

Krakauer once said his journey up Everest left him shaken for years, suffering from something like PTSD. After watching "Everest," you may feel the same way.