by Jason Whyte
A whole visual plague ruins "Vertical Limit" from even being an entertaining movie. CG, matte and process photography, green screen, sets, spherical lenses; the whole movie does not feel like we are on K2, the world's deadliest mountain, but right inside an expensive set on the Sony lot.Martin Campbell, who immediately struck my interest from making a James Bond movie (1995's "Goldeneye"), and a few other films he's made, like "No Escape" and "The Mask of Zorro," have been entertaining (if slight) films. But he knows his stuff, and has stood out to me as a fine action director. However, what seems like his biggest challenge turns into a major suspension of disbelief that's quite hard to swallow.
"Brr...these rubbery walls and fake snow!"
The opening scene is pretty good, however. Even though it echoes the thrilling opening of "Cliffhanger," it works. We meet two siblings named Peter (Chris O'Donnell) and Annie (Robin Tunney), who are pretty good rock-climbers. A situation occurs where their father dies by some inexperienced climbers up above. Very nerve-wracking scene thanks to the tools of editing, even if I thought they weren't really on a mountain, that the camera was just turned sideways.
Three years pass, and Peter has left the game and is now shooting with National Geographic in the K2 mountains in Nepal. He meets up with Annie at a K2 base camp, where Annie is heading on a climb with a billionaire (Bill Paxton) doing this only as a publicity stunt. Chaos ensues when their team is trapped in a cave on the mountain, and Peter gets together with a crew to go up after her. (If this were a Bond review, I would have put "It's up to Bond to save the day/stop them!" right here.)
The characters are poorly written to the point of distraction. This wouldn't be the problem of a comedy or an action movie, but here we have characters immersed in having conversations in Hollywood Scriptwriting 101 ("You're not going to let my sister die!," "When you're up there, you're not dying, you're dead!") and tired plot developments, like the insignificant characters dying first, or like the billionaire who only wants to save his own hyde and won't let his partners administer an important needle.
"Vertical Limit" looks cheap and rushed visually as well. In one, a helicopter dropoff scene that would have been exciting is killed visually by a horrible CG shot and a landing platform that looks creepily, like a set. To prove this, notice that many of the characters never show evaporated breath coming out of their mouths, especially the snow cave scenes, with it's fake snow and rubbery walls.
Campbell, for some reason, decided to shoot this film in the spherical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the film looks closed in and tight for a film that should be panoramic. It could be argued that anamorphic lenses are heavier and more bulky for the altitude of shooting, but that raises two nitpicks: why wasn't Super 35 (shot spherically, but altered to an amamorphic release print) utilized, and "Everest," the IMAX masterpiece, used a camera much bigger than the current Panavision cameras, and went higher than this one for a smaller budget.Some of "Vertical Limit" is edited crisply and some of the performances are good for this type of film, to award its rating for merit. But the movie is severly flawed by described, and I think even a casual filmgoer will notice the obvious "tricks" and wonder where all the money went. Perhaps Chris O'Donnell must love catering.
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originally posted: 09/14/04 01:55:37