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VERTICAL LIMIT

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Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, Izabella Scorupco
Director:  Martin Campbell
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround  (English and French)
Video:  1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  Columbia Tri-Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  124 Minutes
Release Date:  May 22, 2001

“It’s not just gonna be snow up there…it’s gonna be ice…and ROCK!”

Film ***

As the film is often thought of as “the Showgirls of mountain climbing movies,” I was expecting a lot less out of my experience with Vertical Limit.  To my surprise, from thrilling opening to adrenaline-pounding conclusion, Vertical Limit serves up an intense action-driven climbing story. 

The story centers around a team of mountain climbers led by billionaire mogul Elliot Vaughn (Paxton), who, for a warped publicity scheme (and the movie’s whole story), attempt to climb K2, one of the world’s largest mountains.   But faster then you can say avalanche, only Vaughn and two other survivors remain, and it’s up to Peter Garrett (O’Donnell) to rescue his estranged sister (Tunney), before it’s too late. 

The plot is somewhat weak, and there are points in the film that are so obvious that the writer is doing color by number.  For example, in one scene, Garret, and those volunteering with him, are offered nitro glycerin by the local Pakistani Colonel to blow up the snow that covers the survivors.  But before they can even get out of the hut that it’s stored in, one character gets his foot in some of it, resulting in a scene watching him try to wiggle his foot out of the shoe before it explodes.  One is left to wonder the point of using such an extremely volatile substance when climbing, if it’s so unstable it detonates not just from being jostled, but also from any exposure to sunlight.   I immediately divined that this would be a great way to kill off half the cast when they became boring.

Besides an obvious and somewhat silly plot, some of the characters are unintentionally hysterical to watch, with O’Donnell saying some of the silliest things I’ve heard him say since his role in the atrocious Batman series.   Moreover, Paxton is amusing as billionaire Elliot Vaughn who responds to every possible warning of danger with a Texas style “YEEEEEEEHAW!”

So why the three star rating?  While the story has plenty of holes in it, the plot completely transparent, and the characters somewhat ridiculous (a mountain man with no toes for one), this isn’t the point of the film.  The intention of the film is to justify getting plenty of people up on a dangerous mountain so we’re able to watch them fall off it.  On that level, Vertical Limit is a knockout success, and worth a watch, with some breathtaking cinematography and incredibly thrilling action sequences (especially the opener…wow!). 

As long as you’re just in the mood for setting your brain on idle and watching a film that isn’t made to make you think (which many people honestly don’t like to anyway, judging by the huge success of The Mummy Returns), this is a perfect disc.  So pull out the popcorn, pop in the disc, and hold your breath.   

Video ****

The film’s beautiful locations help make the film and Columbia has provided another stellar transfer.  The dusty reddish brown of the canyons in the opening are clear and totally free of distortion.  The snow of K2 is blindingly white.  Flesh tones are done well the entire film.  Overall, this is a winning transfer, ‘nuff said.      

Audio ****

Having seen this movie in theaters, I couldn’t wait to see just how good the sound really is.  Thankfully, Columbia has provided another high quality reference track.  

Speakers are constantly at play with the score, screams, snapping cables, and snowy gusts blow by, bringing the listener into the snowy maelstrom on K2.  Dialogue is clear through the center channel and there are some great moments of directionality.

Finally, the .1 LFE track is punchy and deep, capturing everything from avalanches, wind gusts, explosions, and turrets firing.              

Supplements ****

Columbia has done a terrific job providing a great assortment of supplements and fantastic looking menus in the past.  Vertical Limit is no exception.  First up is a commentary by director Martin Campbell and Lloyd Phillips.  Included as well is “Surviving the Limit,” which is a typical HBO featurette with the cast and crew.  After that is “Search and Rescue Tales,” a feature broken down into seven different spots, each a few minutes in length, which discuss pulmonary edema, how the actors trained, how the F/X was done, and much more.  Also included is National Geographic Channel’s Quest for K2, an engrossing tale of the first Americans to summit K2 and live.  Finally, the package included the usual filmographies, as well as the film’s trailer and trailer’s for Cliffhanger, Charlie’s Angels, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. 

Summary:

In conclusion, this is a disc appropriate for a weekend night with friends (especially if they like to talk a lot during films).  With great audio, video, and an array of supplements, this is one action film that’ll entertain and excite you.