Featured DVD Review: The Summit

The Summit - Buy from Amazon

The Summit is a documentary that came out in October of last year, but it opened poorly and never really found an audience. Is there something fundamentally flawed with the film? Or is its target audience simply too small because of its subject matter?

The Movie

The film begins with a title card explaining that in August of 2008, 11 people died trying to climb K2, making it the worst disaster even on K2. We then hear from one of the survivors before another title card tells us what really happened is still a mystery.

On August 1st, more than two dozen people from a number of expeditions left Camp four to climb to the summit. One of those interviewed described the day as a one in a million day. Perfect for climbing. It wasn't perfect for everyone. There is a bottleneck at a serac (an ice formation) that is the most dangerous part of the journey. Seracs are very unstable and parts can crack off and fall with no warning. The only safety measure you can take is to be quick in the bottleneck. Since there were so many climbers attempting to reach the summit, it would have taken too long to get to the top, so some had to abandon their attempt right away.

Early in the day, one of the climbers, Dren Mandić, had an accident. He fell from the line and while some think he survived the original fall, he fell a second time and by the time his fellow climbers got to him, he was dead. His fellow Serbs want to take his body down the mountain, which is an impossible task. Fredrik Sträng, another climber, agreed to help take him down to Camp Four, where they could give him a proper burial. Along the way down, one of the high-altitude porters, Jehan Baig, became confused (likely from high altitude sickness) and slid down the mountain to his death. At this point, the climbers still in the bottleneck had to make a decision. Do they press on, or do they turn back. If they press on, but can't make it back before nightfall, their chances of surviving drop considerably. But if they turn back, they might not get another chance. They pressed on.

If you look at the reviews on Amazon.com, there are only two of them. One person gave the film 3.5 out of 5 (technically a 3, because you can't give half stars on Amazon.com) while the other gave the film a 1-star review. The latter guy complained that the film didn't do a good enough job explaining the mistakes that were made leading up to this disaster. I have no way of confirming or denying that, because I'm not an expert, or even a novice, when it comes to mountain climbing. I found the documentary incredibly tense and engaging, but perhaps if you are really into mountain climbing, then you will be able to spot too many mistakes or things the filmmakers should not have left out. It's not like the filmmaker didn't point out many mistakes that were made, so I'm not sure what more needed to be said.

The other complaint I've read was more about the production of the film. The documentary includes some reenactments, which some people have taken an issue with. Grant, reenactments do lessen some of the realism in the movie, but what were the filmmakers to do? Were they to rely solely on interviews and some CGI? I don't think that would have been as effective, nor do I think using CGI would have improved accuracy. On the other hand, the film also bounces back in time, which is a bigger problem. After the point where I ended my plot summary, the film jumps back to 1954, which is when the summit of K2 was first reached, then to a couple of attempts, then back to the disaster, then back to May of 2008 when the first climbers arrived at K2 to prepare for the climb. This jumping back and forth didn't help. It didn't make the film more tense, it didn't need the help, it just made it harder to follow.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD, which is not uncommon for a documentary.

The Verdict

Aside from the confusing chronology of the film, The Summit is tense and compelling. There are no extras on the DVD, but it is still worth checking out, picking up if you like this subgenre of documentaries.


- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2014-02-10