Director Nick Ryan tells the story of the tragedy that occurred in August 2008 upon the worlds’ most dangerous summit, K2. Interviewing various surviving members of the mountain crew, Ryan tries to piece together what actually happened on the mountain that took the lives of eleven mountaineers and became a worldwide sensation.
As a fan of the documentary genre, I expected a lot of insight, and intrigue, into what is ultimately a disastrous event, and The Summit did not disappoint. Various interviews with some of the surviving members’ leads to a lot of finger pointing and accusations, and not a lot of answers. But that’s okay. Ultimately The Summit isn’t a film that was made to solve the mystery of the most dangerous day in climbing history, but rather provide the details as best it can and let the audience decide for themselves.
The film does an excellent job of making you feel as if you are actually on the mountain, with beautiful shots of endless glacial ice and jagged rock putting you in awe of the people that actually do this for a living. The recreation of the journey itself adds to this overall pulsating film and from the start the impact of K2 and all its dangerous wonder starts to take effect, sometimes leaving you confused as to whether what you’re watching is real footage or re-enacted for story-telling sake. Editor Ben Stark does a tremendous job of alternating between aerial and base footage to essentially putting you on the mountain, building a real sense of urgency and danger within you as a result.
The only real issue with the film is that because there are so many elements to the event, so much information is provided in such a short time that information overload starts to kick in. A narrative plot that focused on Gerard McDonnell, who lost his life on the descent, and his family who are trying to find answers was a little too focused on, seemingly giving more meaning to his life than that of the other ten victims. By the same token, an interview with Walter Bonatti, who ascended the mountain in 1954, felt unnecessary to the overall plot. I understand that it cinematically connects both treks, but the whole thing didn’t really lend anything to the documentary as a whole, other than the idea of ‘been there, done that’.
Ultimately The Summit captures the essence of the age old adage that if it’s there, why not climb it? Nick Ryan does an overall fantastic job in presenting the monstrous and powerful presence of K2 against the fragile and adventurous nature of climbers in such a way that devastates you in the best way possible.