Strap on the NitroI was asked to watch the trailer for the Vertical Limit and write a review. I can't recall where it was published but it's amusing to read from the vantage point of 2008.
Despite warnings of a fast-moving storm, guide Tom McLaren continues toward the top of K2. An unholy blizzard catches his team at 26,000'. He falls into a crevasse, dragging Annie Garret and client Elliot Vaughan with him. An avalanche seals off their only way out. The uninjured trio's call for help on a walkie-talkie sets a rescue in motion. Base Camp pundits determine that the team has 22 hours to live. Annie's estranged brother, Peter, plans a "speed ascent, in pairs," which Ed Viesturs considers "suicide." They'll use nitroglycerine to breach the crevasse.
Columbia's new film, Vertical Limit, "the story of a family tragedy set against the extreme splendor and chilling might of the world's most feared mountain," is fiction passing itself off as reality. Viewing the teaser made me ill.
Just as the men who carry and shoot firearms for a living are angered Hollywood's farcical gun-handling, those to whom climbing mountains is near and dear are insulted by every climbing scene in every feature film ever made.
On movie mountains invisible crevasses open and snap shut, snow and stones rain constantly, and 100-year storms kill once a week. Hollywood climbers drop their packs and scrabble frantically rather than climbing calmly. Although they fall with alarming frequency, when they're "on" they are the strongest climbers ever seen or heard of. Imagine my glee when Peter Garret sticks a 70-foot downward dyno, sans rope. Or as Cyril Bench saves himself and Monique Aubertine - speeding down a "treacherous icy slope" - by sinking an ice tool just as they shoot off a 3000' cliff. Sixty to zero in a millisecond without separating his shoulder.
These heroes are clean-cut, clean-shaven and sponsored too, which is a contrast to the worn, fetid reality of the average Himalayan climber's one-piece suit. That said, actor Scott Glenn, playing the complex and marginal Montgomery Wick, appears to be the real thing. Styled like a Yosemite denizen circa 1965, part of Glenn's credibility may stem from the fact that he actually got into what he called, the "glorious transcendental experience" of ice climbing during the film. The director, Martin Campbell (and the insurance company) let him do some of his own climbing stunts.
In production notes provided by Columbia Pictures, Campbell claims the drama and relationships are powerful enough that if the story took place in the street it would still "hold up as a movie."
If that were the case, the thrills, chills and explosions are unnecessary. Silly stunts and obvious special effects diminish the sincerity of the beautiful, straight film shot by David Tattersall, the Director of Photography. He used wide-angle lenses without filters to maintain an, "unglamorous, unsentimental look," which is the reality of the high mountains. The best support one could give a well-written, well-acted script is the visual feast the mountains serve up during every visit.
If the teaser is any indication, Vertical Limit will give the uninformed a thrilling ride, but nauseate viewers familiar with mountaineering. The saving grace of the film will only be accessible to those with a climbing background. Climbers should find Tattersall's cinematography refreshing; shooting on location in New Zealand, his camera movements reveal the depth and dimension experienced in the mountains. That the film was made at all is an amazing tribute to the perseverance of the cast and crew. Battling the Southern Alps' infamously uncooperative weather, some of the world's best climbers rigged camera cranes and dolly tracks in extreme locations. They taught the actors to climb, and doubled them for the technically difficult and dangerous stunts. The fact that everyone got out alive is a testament to the skill and awareness of climbers Barry Blanchard and Guy Cotter who led the Talent Safety department. As usual, absent real climbers behind the scenes, Hollywood could never bring their sensationalist interpretation of mountain climbing to the silver screen.