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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/27/01

Vertical Limit
Special Edition - 2000 (2001) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Vertical Limit: Special Edition

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B

Specs and Features

124 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:26:23, in chapter 20), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Martin Campbell and producer Lloyd Phillips, HBO "making-of" special, Search and Rescue Tales (8 making-of featurettes), National Geographic's Quest for K2 featurette, promo trailers for Charlie's Angles, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Cliffhanger, talent files, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Vertical Limit is one of those big action/adventure films that play a lot like old Saturday afternoon matinee films. Everything is taken to a cinematic extreme: the villains are absolutely wicked, the heroes are nothing but virtuous and anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The setting for everything to go wrong is K2 in Pakistan, one of the most dangerous peaks in the world. After losing their father during a climbing accident a few years ago (there's always a tragedy to start movies like this), Annie (Robin Tunney) and Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell) have gone their separate ways. As fate would have it, K2 reunites them. He is there as a photographer for National Geographic, and she is there as a world class, record-breaking climber. Along for the hike up K2 is an obnoxious, enterprising billionaire, Vaughn (Bill Paxton). As a publicity stunt, he's decided to hike up to the mountain's peak in time to film a commercial while the inaugural flight of his new airline soars above him (hasn't he heard of CGI effects?).

When an unexpected snowstorm traps the climbers in a deep cavern, their base camp enlists the help of Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn) to head the dangerous rescue mission up the mountain. He is a reclusive nomad, who knows the mountain better than anyone else does (and has his own personal reasons for wanting to return to the summit). Once they're on the mountain, the "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" portion comes into play. The movie plays like a primer course in mountaineering. The climbers are subjected to extreme wind speeds, snowstorms, destructive avalanches, pulmonary adema, frost bite… and lots of explosive nitroglycerin to shake things up even more. Now... you know going into this movie that it's going to follow a definite formula and that the villain is going to get his just dues at the film's conclusion. Does that take away from the enjoyment of the film? Not at all. There's enough fast paced, high-energy action to fill its two-hour running time, and the skilled direction of experienced action director Martin Campbell makes for some very exciting, white-knuckle sequences.

Columbia TriStar continues their winning streak of quality DVD's with their release of Vertical Limit. You'll find nothing to complain about with the picture and audio quality. It's one of Columbia's finest recent efforts, and presents a picture that is very close to the theatrical image. There are no transfer-related defects, like digital artifacting or edge enhancement. Color saturation, black level and shadow detailing are all properly and flawlessly executed. Even the tricky digital effects shots come across very naturally, without any defects to hamper the quality of the image.

The same praise can be awarded to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this disc. It's a big, loud and aggressive sound mix, that closely mirrors the effect of the theatrical experience. Bass level is full-throttle and thunderous when it needs to be, and the entire sound field benefits from some well-placed directional effects. All this movement in the sound field risks overpowering the dialogue, but that never becomes an issue. Music, effects and dialogue are all aptly mixed to create an admirable 5.1 experience. You'll also find a couple of 2.0 mixes on the disc (one in French, one in English). These sound good, but are obviously limited in their dynamic range.

Columbia also saw fit to release Vertical Limit as a special edition. What's included on the disc is certainly nothing to shake a finger at, but with all the great special editions being released lately by studios like New Line and Fox, it's hard not to expect more. The commentary track, by director Campbell and producer Lloyd Phillips, is informative when it needs to be and gives just enough behind-the-camera stories to be entertaining. It does lag in pace at times, and those involved don't really talk about the movie with all that much enthusiasm. An HBO "making-off" special also provides little nuggets of information, but feels a bit fluffy. What it does succeed at, is in showing how huge an undertaking filming a movie 11,000 feet up is. If you're looking for a true tale of a K2 expedition, you're sure to dig the National Geographic spot. It's short in length (about 12 minutes), but details the first successful American trip to the summit of the mountain. The Search and Rescue Tales is a bit misleading in its title, as it has nothing to do with actual search and rescue tales. It's a series of 1-to 5-minute-long "making-of" featurettes, peppered with footage from the set. It has some good stuff in it, but would have been more user-friendly had it all been contained within one segment. The remaining features are standard disc filler material: theatrical trailers (for this film, plus Charlie's Angles, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the similarly themed Cliffhanger), and filmographies and production notes on the packaging insert. The packing lists a link to the website, but it's nowhere to be found on the DVD.

I got a big kick out of Vertical Limit. It feels a bit cliched to say it, but I actually found myself holding my breath in a few spots. It really is one of those edge-of-your-seat action movies. Just when you think you're in the clear, they throw something else at you to set your heart racing again. It's probably the best mountain climbing movie since Cliffhanger. Okay... it's probably the ONLY mountain climbing movie since then, but what the hell? It's worth a look, and you're bound to find something of interest in the DVD's special features.

Dan Kelly
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