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Vertical Limit

Vertical Limit, Pakistan, 24 November 2000

Directed by Martin Campbell. Released 2000. 124 minutes. Starring Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, and a cameo appearance by mountaineer Ed Viesturs. Filmed in Pakistan, Monument Valley, and New Zealand with Mount Cook standing in for K2. The Bench brothers were based on the Burgess twins, Alan and Adrian.


Peter and Annie Garrett are an experienced brother-and-sister climbing team who have gone their separate ways after an accident claimed the life of their father. Annie has thrown herself into her climbing, claiming that only at the tops of mountains does she feel close to her father. Peter, on the other hand, has given up the sport, opting instead to pursue his love of wildlife by becoming a photographer for National Geographic. The two meet at the K2 base camp when Annie arrives with a group of climbers headed by billionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton). As a publicity stunt for his new airline, Vaughn is determined to climb to the top of K2 so he can wave to one of his planes as it flies overhead. Leading the expedition is experienced climber Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea), but he's really just Vaughn's puppet, bought and paid for by a $1 million check. So, when bad weather threatens and Tom argues in favour of turning back, his words go unheeded. The predictable result is a disaster (complete with an avalanche) that forces Peter to recruit an emergency rescue team and speed-climb towards K2's peak before the survivors succumb to a fatal condition called high altitude pulmonary edema. Worse still, because the survivors are trapped in an underground ice cave, Peter's group must carry canisters of unstable nitro-glycerine to blast a hole through the mountain's frozen crust.

Young climber Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell) risks his life to save his sister, Annie (Robin Tunney), and her summit team (Bill Paxton and Nicholas Lea) in a race against time. The team is trapped in an icy grave at 26,000 feet - a death zone above the vertical limit of endurance where the human body cannot survive for long. Every second counts as Peter enlists the help of a crew of fellow climbers, including eccentric, reclusive mountain man Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), to ascend the chilling might of the world's most feared peak to save her.

Extras include commentary track by director Martin Campbell and producer Lloyd Phillips; the HBO Making-Of special, Surviving the Limit (24 minutes), exploring the behind-the-scenes and preparation activities; Search and Rescue Tales that looks at the different areas of production like the sickness that climbers can face and the dangers of avalanches; and National Geographic Channel's Quest for K2 (13 minutes) takes a look at the first Americans to make it to the top of K2 in a 1978 expedition featuring interviews with people who have reached K2's summit plus older footage from previous climbs.

From a mountaineering perspective a lot of the scenes are a bit silly, but this is Hollywood, so get over it and enjoy the action. I liked the action packed, edge of your seat, high altitude scenes. The transport of nitroglycerin as a means to create tension reminds me of the 1953 thriller, Wages of Fear.

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