Everest drags you close to the world’s highest mountain, slams you down into an unworldly environment, and rams you through the wringer for a couple of hours while relatable, all too human members of a climbing expedition run into terrible luck and must battle to survive. Meanwhile we, in our theater seats, don’t battle much more than the sweats, vertigo, white knuckles, dizziness, and the extreme likelihood that a couple of nimrods sitting in the row behind might be kicking the backs of our seats out of sheer nerves. Still, that’s how tense this thing gets.

Baltasar Kormaku (2 Guns) directed the 3D IMAX movie — a well acted disaster and survival heart-stopper — from a script by William Nicholson (Gladiators) and Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours) that recounts the nightmarish May 1996 when a mega-blizzard gave little warning and slammed two different exploration teams trying to reach the summit of Everest. For sheer drama, the facts don’t miss a beat or pull a punch. Oxygens tanks are too few. Ropes are either missing or unusable. The black sky is endless and overwhelming. The weather never lets up. Every climber has his reasons for being where he is, dragging along his weaknesses, fears, bravery and decency. Meanwhile, it’s indifferent Mother Nature against them all. Everest is jaw-dropping to look at, and it’s grim but it delivers, even when it muddles its emotional gut-jabs with too damn many underdeveloped characters.

The acting by Jason Clarke (as the trek’s expert Aussie alpha adventure consultant), Jake Gyllenhaal (as Clarke’s competitor guide, a hyped-up extreme sports adrenaline junkie), Josh Brolin (as a cocksure wealthy Texan), and John Hawkes (an everyday Seattle postman) make it impossible not to pull for these guys. Back at base camp and among the people who wait, though, it’s the tour manager, played by Emily Watson, who runs away with the acting honors, even with effective work from blink-and-they’re-gone stars Robin Wright and Keira Knightley as a pregnant wife. For theme and spectacle alone, Everest invites comparison with Gravity and even Mad Max: Fury Road. But, although it comes on strong with awe and mow-you-down spectacle, it doesn’t have the emotional appeal of either, let alone the blazing originality of vision. Still, it’ll tide you over until your next cardio workout.