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The Summit

Truth isn’t really stranger than fiction, it’s just more unruly. The Summit is debuting filmmaker Nick Ryan’s commendable but ultimately confusing attempt to get a handle on a particularly unruly story: the 2008 K2 disaster, in which 11 people died in an attempt to climb the world’s most dangerous mountain.

This was not a single expedition. Several parties from different countries were trying to take advantage of a brief window of opportunity to scale the peak after weeks of waiting. On August 1, 25 people left from the northernmost base camp to make the final climb of 28,000 feet. Most of them made it (as a rule, people don’t die climbing mountains; they die coming down mountains). But what happened in the following 48 hours is a jumble of events in which no one knows all the details, stymied by confusing evidence and conflicting evidence from survivors.

Ryan uses a semi-documentary approach, mixing footage taken by some of the climbers and interviews with some of the survivors with recreations. You can understand why he wanted to use the real footage taken so high on K2: One shot in particular, of the mountain’s shadow extending over China, is especially priceless. The recreations are seamlessly matched, but that’s not necessarily a good thing: it makes you lose you bearings in trying to get a grasp on a story that is unstable to begin with.

There’s simply too much to deal with here, too many characters and too much jargon that will be unfamiliar to people who prefer to spend their free time in their living rooms. Ryan clearly has a special interest in one of the perished, Irishman Ger McDonnell, but that may be because McDonnell’s family was the most willing to cooperate with this project. (Some of the survivors refused to be interviewed, including some who you wish would tell their side of the story.)

If this kind of thing interests you, I suggest that you do a little reading on the events before seeing the film (the Wikipedia entry is a good summary). For the rest of us, there remains one big question The Summit doesn’t even try to answer: why anyone would try to climb a mountain that has already killed one of every four people who has reached its peak.

Watch the trailer for The Summit

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