16 June 2002 | Philby-3
There's no limit to mountaineering melodramatics
While mountaineering is one of the most exhilarating of sports it has produced little good fiction, and few good fictional movies, though there have been some excellent documentaries ('The Man who Skied Down Everest', the Imax 'Everest' film, for example). Somehow, when it comes to fiction, the clichés take over, and this film, with some genuinely gorgeous camera-work and impressive stunts, is full of them. The wealthy megalomaniac determined to conquer K2 at any cost, the climber who lost his nerve when his father was killed who pushes himself into action to save his sister, stuck in a crevass high up the mountain with the moneyed one, the bitter old man of the mountains who is essential to the rescue, the guide who has sold out, It's all there. One does expect some improbability of plot in a film like this, but the thought that someone might cart Pakistani Army liquid nitro-glycerine in back packs to the top of K2 to blast a crevasse open really was a bit much.
Apart from a very attractive opening sequence in Utah (Monument Valley, I think) the film was shot in the New Zealand Alps, with a few clips of the genuine Karkoram Himalaya spliced in. For this viewer, it brought back pleasant memories of climbing in the University holidays around the Southern Alps. But climbing is a dangerous sport; on one trip I was accompanied by four people, all of whom subsequently died in separate climbing accidents (one on Makalu, next to Everest). There is a fair amount of special effects malarky (no-one, not even Temuera Morrison pretending to be Pakistani, would fly an old military helicopter so close to a mountain wall at 21,000 feet), but there are also some genuinely stirring shots.
Unfortunately, the acting for the most part matches the script. Chris Connelly, good at sensitive young men, is wrong for the brother bent on rescue (it's more of a part for Bruce Willis), and Bill Paxton is only moderately menacing as the ruthless Richard Branson-style billionaire. In fact the only decent piece of acting is Scott Glenn's Wick, the veteran with attitude. The'comic' Australian climbing brothers, Ces and Cyril, or whatever their names were, were profoundly embarrassing I guess Ben Mendelsohn will be hoping no-one will recognise him with a balaclava on his head. There were also lackluster performances from the two female leads, Robin Tunney and Izabella Scorupco. One of them, Scorupco, is an ex-Bond girl ('Goldeneye') the casting people obviously didn't realise she was going to be spending the entire movie wrapped up in Gore-Tex. There's no sex at high altitude it's too damned cold and anyway survival takes precedence over procreation.
I think Roger Ebert got it right on this one a 'B' movie with an 'A' movie budget. There are all sorts of anomalies the lack of visible water vapour issuing from the climbers, their sprightly behaviour even after hours at 26,000 feet, the use of north wall hammers to attack a rock/ice pitch, the miraculous helicopter piloting but somehow the magnificence of those great peaks comes through. The worst thing about a movie like this is that it portrays the mountains as hellish, which is far from the truth. What is it the psalm says 'I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my strength'? Climbing is one thing I have never regretted doing, and it would be a pity if people were put off the sport by stuff like this. Actually I think the people who do attempt peaks like K2 would see this film as preposterous, overblown Hollywood brown smelly stuff, and they'd be right. But there is some nice scenery.