Like the mountain climbers it depicts, The Summit is a documentary willing to take risks in recounting how nearly a dozen mountaineers died trying to conquer Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second-highest peak, on Aug. 1, 2008.
While Mount Everest is slightly taller, K2 is considered the more challenging climb because of its narrow passages and its propensity for avalanches. Roughly a quarter of the climbers who’ve attempted to make a round trip to the summit died in the process.
Mountaineer Pemba Gyalje Sherpa modestly but soberly recounts how he kept the death toll from getting higher.
Director Nick Ryan was probably wise not to have an unseen narrator pontificating on the events. That’s probably because no one knows the entire story.
There were many teams who tried to reach the top of the peak in that 48-hour period, and most of the witnesses never made it down to tell their stories. One who did spent hours in the Death Zone, which gets its name from the fact that the air is so thin that climbers risk brain damage simply being there. As the surviving climbers recount, good judgment is one of the first casualties of the climb, and memories are clouded by low oxygen levels.
While the multiple perspectives presented in The Summit make it a much richer experience than simply watching a news account of the incident, it also makes the film occasionally confusing and tricky to follow. Keeping track of the individuals in peril is a challenge.
Ryan presents the incident out of chronological order and includes some hair raising re-enactments. Great documentaries such as Kevin Macdonald’s Touching the Void work because they make viewers experience the emotions of an incident. By breaking up the narrative, Ryan tries to make the film a more thorough examination of what went wrong, but winds up preventing viewers from getting close enough to the characters to become concerned about their welfare. Because mountaineering is inherently dangerous, there is a sense of “serves you right” throughout the film.
Ryan does a fine job of capturing the majesty of K2 and imbues it with at least some sense of why climbers continue to scale it. The icebound beauty is formidable, and the view from its top rewards those who decide not to stay at home.
The Summit 78 Cast: Climbers Cecilie Skog, Marco Confortola, Wilco van Rooijen and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa and various actors in re-enactment scenes Director: Nick Ryan Rating: Rated R for language Running time: 95 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 11/01/2013
Print Headline: The Summit