TOUCHING THE VOID
Review by Michael Jacobson
Joe Simpson, Simon Yates, Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: June 15, 2004
put, Touching the Void is the most harrowing true story I’ve ever seen
relayed on film. It’s a story so
incredible, so suspenseful, and so filled with jaw-dropping scenarios that had
it been conceived as a work of fiction it would have been dismissed far and wide
as over the top and non-believable.
true it is, right down to the fact that the real men who lived the story, Joe
Simpson and Simon Yates, appear on camera to tell it. Based on the book by Joe Simpson, the protagonists look
directly at you as they reminisce and narrate, while director Kevin MacDonald
re-enacts their tale with remarkable detail using a pair of actors (Mackey and
Aaron respectively). It’s said at
the beginning of the film that this is one of the most talked about and famous
(or infamous) stories repeated amongst mountaineers. Now, regular feet-on-the-ground kind of folks get to share in
it as well.
real-life storytelling mixes superbly with the dramatic footage to convey a true
documentary-like experience of these two mountain climbers who dared to go where
no one had successfully gone before: to
the peak of the 21,000 foot Siula Grande in Peru, a snowcapped mountain with an
imposing icy vertical façade. Others
had tried and failed…Joe and Simon tried and succeeded despite frequent snow
storms and conditions of nearly no visibility, bitter cold, icy patches,
frostbite and more. With nothing
but a rope to keep them together and grit and determination, they made it…but
that was only the beginning of their adventure.
climb UP a mountain, and eventually, you have to climb back DOWN it as well.
As the two friends started down, a mishap left Joe with a brutally
shattered leg and Simon having to do the climbing for both of them.
As Joe recalls, a broken limb on a climb such as that one meant certain
death, but we see for ourselves how right he might be.
cleverly ties their two 150 foot ropes together in an attempt to get his partner
down the mountain ahead of him. But
weather conditions make it hard to see one another and even harder to hear, so
Simon has no clue at one point that he’s lowered Joe over a steep drop.
With no way for Joe to take his weight of the rope so Simon can let go,
the two men are trapped in the ultimate catch 22 predicament…until Simon’s
fragile position starts to give way under the strain, leaving him with no
choice…he cuts the rope.
being that we’re seeing the real two men on screen in front of us, we know
ahead of time that Joe somehow survives the unthinkable, so no need for worries,
As Joe narrates the tale of what happens to him from that point on and
the ordeal he has to go through to get back alive, the stomach knotting part of
the story is only beginning.
is an absolutely perfect film in terms of a depiction of a totally engrossing
experience filled with natural suspense. No
tricks are needed; the director never needs to up the ante to maintain our
involvement. There are no subplots
or self contained scenarios to deal with. The drama at hand is more than enough…not even Hitchcock
could have conceived of such a menacing script, and as I mentioned, even if he
did, no one would have believed it. This
story would have had to have been true, or not exist at all.
someone who’s naturally petrified of heights, I don’t mind saying that this
movie fired its way through my fear neurons and hit just about every one on its
way through. I don’t know what
makes guys like Joe and Simon do what they do, but I admire them while wanting
to yell at them at the same time.
is simply an unforgettable experience. Once
you’ve seen Touching the Void, you’ll never shake it loose from your
system. You may be telling your
friends over and over again about it. You
may also decide that you’ll never, ever climb a mountain, but no one will
fault you for it.
is a great looking anamorphic transfer from MGM…the outdoor photography looks
splendid, and even though you’d think there’s a danger of monochromic tones
with all the white snow, there’s still plenty of detail level to give subtle
accents to the picture. Colors are
rich and natural looking throughout, and despite a slight and probably
unavoidable touch of murkiness here and there in the few darker scenes,
everything renders with clarity and integrity.
5.1 soundtrack is both explosive and subtle, where the quiet sounds are actually
more unnerving than the big ones. Every
atmospheric tone from the winds blowing through the mountaintops to the creaking
of snow ledges about to give way are captured magnificently, and mixed in a
thoroughly engrossing way to keep all corners of your sound system busy and you
square in the middle of the action. The
dynamic range is plenty powerful, and spoken words are clean and clear.
disc contains three featurettes, and if you’re like me, once you’re done
with the film, you’ll immediately want to go to “What Happened Next”.
It literally is just that, as the men continue recounting their story
from where the movie leaves them. There’s
also a making-of featurette and a “Return to Siula Grande” one, plus the
original trailer and some previews of other MGM titles.