‘The Summit’ doesn’t break new ground

“The Summit” documents the deadly 2008 K2 mountain climbing disaster.
Credit: Robbie Ryan

‘The Summit’
Director: Nick Ryan
Genre: Documentary
2 (out of 5) Globes

There’s few adventure sports more foolish than mountain climbing, which is for thrill seekers with a larger death wish than most. But few incidents rival the 2008 K2 disaster, in which 24 climbers attempted to reach the summit of the world’s second largest mountain. Less than half survived, with the majority being picked off one-by-one by slips, lost ropes and falling ice.

The meat of documentarian Nick Ryan’s feature debut is an attempt to get the real story from the survivors, not all of whom agreed to talk. There are conflicting tales from the various international teams, plus the Sherpas helping them along. But Ryan never finds the structure to sift through the mess of sometimes contradictory claims, and can’t even decide if this is some “Rashomon”-esque portrayal of the unknowability of truth. It’s kind of a mess, and one whose valorization of one of the deceased — Irishman Ger McDonnell — over the rest smacks of bad form.

It’s better received as a superficial block of exposition depicting a stranger-than-fiction tale, albeit one that borrows a general structure (talking heads plus recreations) from the far superior mountain tragedy doc “Touching the Void.” “The Summit” works best when inquiring into the special blend of fearlessness, arrogance and delusion that drives people to embrace a dangerous hobby, but even there it only gets an inch below skin deep.



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