[box cover]

Vertical Limit: Special Edition

Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world, but it is no secret that its Himalayan sister Karakorum Peak 2 — known simply as K2 — is the toughest. Only 778 feet shorter than Everest, it has been summited far fewer times, and it has seen more deaths per climber. It's the perfect setting for a dandy action-adventure, and K2's imposing, pyramid-shaped cone forms the backdrop for Martin Campbell's Vertical Limit. Regrettably, even this unique high-altitude wilderness cannot keep the film from its inevitable descent into Hollywood cliché. Chris O'Donnell and Robin Tunney star as Peter and Annie Garrett, siblings who have gone their separate ways after a tragic climbing accident in Utah's Monument Valley that cost their father his life. Peter has abandoned the sport, becoming a photojournalist, while Annie has become one of the world's best climbers — so good that she's hired by aviation billionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) to join his assault on K2, which is part PR stunt, part "life statement" for the egomaniacal entrepreneur. But when bad weather — and worse decisions — has the Vaughn team trapped in a deep crevasse, Peter is determined to mount a rescue mission against impossible odds, assisted by maverick American climber Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), French Canadian nurse Monique Aubertine (Izabella Scorupco), and others. Billed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, Vertical Limit delivers the goods on that score — while there are quite a few digitally composed sequences, many more were shot on location (mostly in New Zealand) with the actors indeed at high altitude, and these moments pay off (a shot of Glenn hacking his way up a sheer cliff of ice is memorable). But where Vertical Limit stumbles is in the execution of its story — rather than creating a lean narrative with intrinsic moments of suspense, the tale simply darts from one harrowing event to the next (often results of stupefying errors), so that by the end the characters are completely sublimated to the miscellaneous life-in-peril sequences. Heart-palpitating as they are, after a while the pace becomes overbearing. The bland O'Donnell and Tunney fail to make any sort of impression amidst the high-wire theatrics, while veteran character actors Paxton and Glenn are far more interesting — even though the source of their secret grudge become obvious in a matter of minutes (not to mention what additional secrets the mountain will reveal to Glenn before the film is over). Columbia TriStar had padded out their DVD release of Vertical Limit: Special Edition nicely, with a crystal-clear anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and audio in rich Dolby Digital 5.1 — everything we should expect from the action genre. Supplements include a commentary track with director Campbell and producer Lloyd Phillips; a 23-minute featurette "Surviving the Limit" (which mixes requisite film promotion with some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits); seven short features on various aspects of the film and the history of K2; and an intriguing 12-minute excerpt from the National Geographic documentary "Quest for K2," which is so good that you want to see more of it. Production notes, cast filmographies, trailer gallery. Keep-case.

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