The Summit (2012) Poster

(II) (2012)

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5/10
Dramatic Documentary Flawed by Bias
BarFlyBzzz11 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Some reviews have mentioned the disjointedness of the storytelling, and while The Summit is sometimes confusing in its recounting of the deadliest single day of mountaineering on K2, regarded by many as the most treacherous of the 8,000km peaks, what ultimately dooms this sometimes breathtaking film is its blatant agenda to idolize Irish climber Ger McDonnell.

First, like many mountain-climbing films, the cinematography is simply astounding, and nearly makes up for its later flaws. There are scenes from the top of K2, the world's second highest mountain, that will leave you slack-jawed. K2's shadow in the late afternoon, hundreds of miles away in China, appears to rise out of the atmosphere like an Egyptian pyramid. Other passages, like the tricky negotiation of the Bottleneck, with a massive ice serac ominously looming overhead, will have you questioning the sanity of these climbers, much like Touching the Void and Into Thin Air (the book, not the TV movie).

And it is during these times that The Summit is at its best--illuminating the folly of those who sacrifice so much and risk everything to climb a savage mountain such as K2. The interviews with survivors such as Wilco van Rooijen and Cecilie Skog will you have you scratching your head at the way they appear to simply shrug off the death of a fellow climber (Dren Mandić, the first of 11 fatalities) and continue their ascent. These interviews are expertly spliced with the comments of some of the Sherpas and high-altitude porters present that really have you questioning whether you would want some of these people climbing with you. These moments are interspersed with dramatic reenactments that are quite well done and heighten the proceedings.

This is when The Summit is most effective--when it attempts to explore questions such as the motivation of climbing in a death zone not meant to support human life, the heroism (or foolishness) of attempting to save a fellow climber at that height, and the fragility of human existence in such a tenuous environment where one minor mistake can mean death.

Unfortunately, this is a documentary with an agenda. Instead of collecting the facts, presenting both sides, and letting the viewer decide for him- or herself, the filmmakers set out to validate and idolize McDonnell. Now, none of us were there that day, and the very fact that the survivors themselves are not sure what happened on K2 makes the story even more alluring. But director Nick Ryan paints a heavy-handed picture that questions the veracity of Italian survivor Marco Confortola. One of the ways Ryan accomplishes this is to weave the story of Walter Bonatti into the film. Bonatti was part of the first ascent of K2 in 1954 but was not selected to make the summit, instead being assigned to carry oxygen to the camps. He was accused of using the oxygen by Achille Compagnoni which put the expedition at risk and for years was ostracized by the Alpinist community. Ryan somehow forces this into his theme of McDonnell's heroics, so in effect, the long-awaited vindication of Bonatti is ironically used to discredit a fellow Italian climber.

Yet the use of Bonatti and footage from 1954 has the effect of confusing the viewer; simultaneously, Ryan fails to mention that the in-depth investigations into the disaster on K2 by NY Times writer Graham Bowley as well as Michael Kodas have concluded that Confortola's story is most likely true and the "evidence" cited by Ryan is inconclusive at best. Ultimately, the ulterior motives of the film destroys what could have been a beautiful and troubling examination of what drives men and women to risk it all to attain a summit like K2.
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5/10
Interesting story, documentary confusing
martinp9992 March 2014
This is a story about tragedy caused by complete and utter confusion. From simple mistakes at the beginning of the attempt everything turned into chaos that cost many lives.

So, given that confusion in the subject matter, it would be difficult to remove confusion from the documentary. Sadly, the creators seem to have actually gone out of their way to introduce more confusion. Out of sequence histories, introducing another (related) story, and not attempting to tie everything together.

I'm glad that I watched this movie, I just would have liked it to be better put together.
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3/10
Poor script of a great story
thelightsareoff9 March 2014
This is a fascinating story and a filmmaker's dream. But the filmmakers managed to make the story very confusing. The interviews are often hard to understand because of the different accent the people have. Then, it is mixed and edited in confusing sequence. Critical questions are not asked, it is a discovery-style movie but so poorly scripted that at the end one still question himself...so what did actually happen? The footage and scenery delivers spectacular views, but unfortunately the film does not transfer the drama which has taken place that day. Let someone take the material, re-shuffle it into a proper order and add a voice-over who can put some context, structure and critical notes in.
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6/10
Emotion over reason
Floyd Maxwell28 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
So-so documentary portrays events of 2008 on K2.

Things are getting crowded on mountain tops. We had the massive loss of life on Everest this year. And Krakauer's documented event on Everest. And 2008 on K2.

  • Bad things happen when too many people hook onto a rope.


  • Slow climbers slow all climbers.


  • Dependency on ropes is similarly fatal, and attracts novice climbers.


Pity this documentary focuses on after events, instead of pointing out that (1) leaving too late in the day, with (2) too many climbers on the same route at the same time, and (3) mixing in novice teams, on a mountain as deadly, unpredictable and daunting as K2 is a recipe for disaster. Throw in a dash of summit fever -- people not knowing when to turn around and live to climb another day -- and you have K2 in 2008.

Noticeably absent from this documentary is the voice of Ed Viesturs -- perhaps the safest high altitude climber of them all.

For what it is worth, I would have appreciated the dramatization moments being labeled as such. Or be removed/replaced with voice-over of the people involved and still/video images of K2.

Neither a great nor an awful documentary, let's at least try to learn from it and other sources. That would be showing respect for those who have gone before us.
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7/10
Compelling true story
SnoopyStyle11 July 2014
On August 2008, 11 mountain climbers die on top of the world second highest peak K2. This is a mix of interviews, documentary and recreations to tell the story of the eclectic mix of international teams of climbers. Also it has interviews with Walter Bonatti who is the youngest member of the '54 Italian expedition to summit K2 for the first time.

This is such a compelling true story. The climb and the descend is very tense. The only problem comes with a confused recounting of any controversy in the last 15 minutes. The ending is about a search for what happened to Ger McDonnell. It seems necessary to concentrate much more on him for the whole movie. Since they're doing recreations anyways, it's probably best to just do a narrative story with Ger as the protagonist.
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9/10
A thoughtful debate of a difficult question
mmguica17 October 2013
From what I understood, this documentary set out to answer a difficult moral dilemma: should a climber endanger his own life in order to save others'? I think it did a beautiful job at giving a rather complete picture of people's different perspectives, attitudes, projected against the outcome. It is probably one of the best documentaries that I have seen, in the sense that it manages to capture the gist of this issue.

On a more personal note, I really liked the comment that the widow of one of the perished climbers makes towards the end of the movie. It raises an interesting question "of judgment" for the people that are outside the climbing world.
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6/10
Interesting story portrayed on a confusing docudrama
eurograd3 March 2014
High-altitude mountaineering fascinates many people, this reviewer included, for the extreme demands it places on sportsmen engaged on the sport. They go to places where helicopters don't go, where no human could live for extended periods of time. Different than other extreme nature sports like rafting, cross-country skiing or long-distance trekking, mountaineering provides the only way for people to reach places that are higher above the rest of the World.

In this context, I generally like documentaries and docudramas that focus on various aspects of the sport, its challenges and also its tragedies.

However, The Summit covers a nice story on a confusing and haphazard edition. It combines real-time footage of events, 'debriefing'-style post-fact interviews and dramatization of events are accounted by those that survived or witnessed them first-hand. All that material should yield a great final piece, but I'm left with the feeling of watching an unfinished job, or a piece that was somehow the result of compromises of an intractable committee with diverging opinions on how the documentary should look like.
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Could have been great
shanayneigh17 March 2016
The visuals are for the most part great, sometimes blurring the line between archival documentary footage and re-enactment.

But the movie itself is poorly structured.

For seemingly no reason at all it jumps back and forth in time, making one unsure exactly what happened when, and how much time has passed. I imagine a more linear approach would have been much more effective.

There was a bunch of climbers divided into three groups, but the movie doesn't do a very good job of introducing them, with a few exceptions, making them indistinguishable from one another. Consequently it's sometimes hard to understand who is where on the mountain and when, exacerbating the problems of the non-linear narrative.

It's a pity. This movie could've been great, especially with the documentary footage, but it's lacking in focus.
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Powerful cure for mountain-climbing craving.
jdesando20 October 2013
"He discovers things about his own body and mind that he had almost forgotten in the day-to-day, year-to-year routine of living." James Ramsey Ullman, High Conquest.

I don't know about you, but if I were approaching the "death zone" while mountain climbing, I'd turn back. However, you can bet the heroes of the documentary, The Summit, hiking the world's second biggest and most difficult mountain (it defeats 1 out of every 4 climbers), K2, had no such thoughts. The Summit won the Sundance World Cinema documentary award this year.

More interesting than the physical exploits is the rationale for doing such a dangerous sport in the first place. Yet, such psychoanalyzing is not a matter for The Summit, a thrilling doc long on the difficult climb and more difficult decisions while fates are decided in sometimes inscrutable and random ways. It's short on the motivation, which pretty much is accepted these days as, "because it's there."

Eleven climbers of 25 lost their lives that day in 2008 without an adequate explanation for any of the deaths. However this thesis is proved once more: Most lives in climbing are lost on the descent. The film has a fragmented, multiple-points-of-view (think of a climbing Rashomon) approach that cuts among the several players and history while featuring a couple of the more charismatic climbers, especially Ger McDonnell, whose death is the most difficult to understand even as he's touted for his alleged attempt to save 3 Korean climbers.

This discursive storytelling can be confusing while it saps the thrust of the inherently intriguing story. The many re-enactments drain the film of its immediate "what-the" doc impact. The film retains some of the awe we all feel when in the presence of such a manifestation of Nature's power:

"You do not laugh when you look at the mountains, or when you look at the sea." Lafcadio Hearn
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5/10
Confusing yet interesting
daraghofla7 January 2014
If one is to delve into the wealth of mountaineering lit that is easily attained, it doesn't take long to understand that mountaineering on tourism mountains like Everest (and now it seems K2), is ultimately an exercise in selfishness. A team experienced in mountaineering, minimising risks on a tough to conquer mountain is fine. Standing in a queue under a massive Serac, well past the turn-back time, deep in the Deathzone, is not mountaineering. In scenarios like that, I root for the mountain.

In this respect, I believe "The Summit" performs well. Blondie's crocodile tears seem specifically edited to fool no-one. The other protagonists all seem at ease with their dis-ease. They seem to realise the folly and they don't try to paint themselves in any more of a appealing light. So from that respect, the interviews with the survivors seem believable.

However the documentary is very fragmented and often confusing. No major attempt is made to shed further light on this wipe-out of human life and if you're looking for facts, you'll struggle.

The hero of this Irish doc is Ger McDonnell. The only climber who seemed to acquit him or herself with any bravery that those without a notion of the dangers of high altitude, could find remote sympathy for. While others struggled for their lives, he is portrayed as a hero, almost unaffected by his surroundings. In truth, the gravity of the situation is not well portrayed. With this in mind, watch "Touching the Void" or "North Face".

In short, fair play to those involved in the making of this documentary and their are some interesting perspectives (McDonnell's family portray strength and intelligence). If the point is to swipe at tourism mountaineering, then job done. Unfortunately, I've seen much better.
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10/10
Great movie by capturing the unique life of a high altitude mountaineer
Paul Reynolds7 January 2014
This movie shows the challenges met by a high altitude mountaineer on K2 and the codes they conform to in order to survive. Its well worth watching to get a great insight into such a dangerous activity and try and portray the enormous risks and challenges people take in conquering the most dangerous mountain in the world. The movie also tells the truth of what really happened on the mountain from reliable witnesses (the surviving climbers themselves). It was also great to see such a great character Ger McDonnell shine through in his personality and character from personal footage on the mountain. It makes me proud to see such a great Irishman accomplishing such a huge challenge. 10 out of 10 for an overall excellent film
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1/10
Horrible scripting
marty85 March 2014
This could have been a great story, but they butchered it. They jump from one time period, group, and place to another, then back to an entirely different setting from the first two. Nothing is in the proper sequence.

Directors shouldn't be awarded with more than one star when they botch a story up as badly as this. Someone needs to take the same film and put it together in a more chronological and logical order. Then we just might have a good story.

In the end, you don't really know what the movie is about. Is it about K2, the 1954 expedition, the 2008 expedition, or is it making some larger point? The movie is allegedly about the 2008 expedition, but again, they fail to simply tell us the story.

This movie shows a lot of great scenery, and shots of people climbing the mountain. If that's what you want to see, you will get that.
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5/10
Important documentary with a very confused narrative
brendan-821-65485528 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The story this documentary sets out to tell is a very important one, but the documentary has been created with a very confusing narrative.

The biggest problem is really the decision to include the story of Walter Bonatti, from a totally separate incident that happened on K2 almost 70 years before the tragic events of 2008 that are the central focus of this documentary.

Effectively they've sandwiched together what should be two separate documentaries, and the way that Walter Bonatti retells his story (reading from a script) is really jarring and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the documentary footage, and as a result it really pulls the viewer out of the movie and the story which should actually be the central focus of our attention (the 2008 incident.)

On top of this, they also chose to use his story as a juxtaposition to the 2008 events - putting the two side by side and cutting back and forth. In the end this simply results in a very confused film narrative with two completely separate incidents that only really share two details in common: the mountain they took place on, and the way in which the events were distorted after the fact.

I don't think the connections were strong enough though to actually justify putting both events side by side in this film, and there is no obvious reason for doing this - instead it just detracts from what is a very powerful story when told without any distractions.

I think that it would have been far better to use that screen time to actually focus on telling the story of 2008 in more detail - there are key moments which aren't really fleshed out properly and as a result you find yourself asking: 'what the heck actually happened there?'

Another thing that felt a little bit disjointed was the beginning of the documentary - it was quite hard to grasp what the actual set up was (i.e. what was going on and who the key players were), and once you get to the end of the film you realise that a lot of that initial first part of the documentary didn't actually add to your understanding of these events.

I also think that after setting up some very obvious questions around ethics, the management of the fateful climb, and prudent decision-making on the mountain, the filmmakers never really explored and went back to these issues in a way that ties the film together with a solid narrative.

I would still recommend this documentary, as I think the story it tells is an important and engaging one, but, sadly, the final film never really reaches its full potential because of the way it was put together.

You also need to go into this movie with an awareness that, in order to properly understand these events, you will actually need to do some supplemental reading about the incident - which really does defeat the whole point of having a documentary movie about an incident.
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3/10
What Is Happening?
toomanypeople201126 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The question "what is happening?" came at almost every turn throughout this piece.

On the back of incredible climbing stories that have been so well told in the past (Touching The Void and The North Face rank highly in my collection), I sat awaiting this story eagerly… I was however VERY disappointed for two reasons:

1. This fails as a documentary to accurately and effectively document and express to the viewer a single piece of detail regarding the event. In 2008 there were a few groups of mountaineers that climbed the mountain - some of those climbers made mistakes - 11 people died and no coherent story could be wrought from the survivors. This SHOULD make for an interesting story, however there is so little viewer involvement, the story just doesn't make sense - even the number of climbers was contradicted at each point on the mountain!?

2. The interviewees provided nothing of interest in this documentary. I felt these were a group of selfish, generally reckless people who I had no common ground with. That said, the film maker did not assist these people in accurately supporting them visually in their telling of their piece and as such I was left not understanding where any of them were on the mountain at any particular time, how far away from each other they were, what they were doing or at what point in the climb they were at.

In this instance, i am sorry to say my 3* review is for the sensational views of the Himalayas and for what was some interesting POV shooting taken by the team on the mountain.

In recommendation, seek out other climbing documentaries. This deserves a re-make.
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Details were changed for no apparent reason.
v_kobiljski24 November 2014
Confusing and untrue at times. I had to read about what actually happened to find out the facts after 2 hours of poorly put together interviews. Also the Serbian climber was quite selfless and died because he unclipped to let other people pass him, not to pass Skog. I don't know why they would make such a strange mistake on this detail, but it's either deliberate lying to make the story better or poor research.

At 8 a.m. climbers were finally advancing through the Bottleneck. Dren Mandić, from the Serbian team, decided to attend to his oxygen system and so unclipped from the rope to let other climbers pass. Mandić lost his balance and fell, bumping into Cecilie Skog of the Norwegian team. She was still clipped to the rope and was only knocked over. Mandić fell over 100 m down the bottleneck.
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6/10
Compelling Story, awful narrative
James Smith31 August 2015
This film is certainly worth a watch, basically to mainly observe how not to put together a documentary. The Story is extremely compelling but the director chooses to jump the narrative all over the place and even confuse the audience with a story about the first ever climb up K2. Simply it doesn't work. I am quite surprised it got released like this, all the pieces are there - but unfortunately in the wrong order which ultimately makes you care less. Maybe the director/editor producer were trying to be clever but it's just a bit naff. Also there are too many captions and the interviews look a bit ugly. Shame as the story is brilliant.
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7/10
Beautiful but flawed
phillip_harben7 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Interesting documentary, but as others have written, The Summit suffers from a disjointed narrative which impacts it negatively.

Largely focusing on the events of two days in 2008, which saw 11 climbers die, it is bizarrely interspersed with K2's first summit attempt back in the fifties. I do not know why Walter Bonatti's tale was woven into this. It had no bearing on the events in 2008 and should have been cut.

Also, the narrative jumps between 2008 and an aborted attempt in 2006, but as both attempts feature the same two people in the same geographical area, it is confusing. Also, the film mixes reconstruction with actual footage which adds more confusion.

Whoever edited this deserves shooting, as does director Nick Ryan for his blatant bias toward the fellow Irishman Ger McDonnell, who lost his life on K2. Trying to shoehorn a story of heroism into this mess of a film is incongruous at best. If he wanted to tell the story of Ger, he should have set that stall out to begin with, then weave the other narrative around it. Instead, we get some heavy- handed clunkiness about his (possible) heroism, based on supposition and hardly a shred of evidence. Really? The Koreans were further down the mountain than they were? Ger cut their tangled ropes and helped them down? Based on no evidence at all.

This is a dog's breakfast of a documentary, lacking in coherent narrative and some bad directorial decisions.

Why the high score, then? Despite all of the above, it was gripping in parts, and had some utterly breathtaking cinematography. It also gave the viewer an insight into the harsh, unforgiving "death zone" of K2.
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4/10
In Dangerous Sports People Die; Get Over It
Leftbanker25 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Deaths in this sort of activity are nothing even remotely resembling unexpected. With something like over 80 deaths on K2 dying is something you can almost count on. If you are doing anything this risky for your own personal ambition or whatever you want to call it, then death hardly seems like a tragedy. It's sort of the same thing when you see a skateboarder get messed up doing a trick; it just seems like stupidity. And then some of these people not only put their own lives in peril but endanger the lives of the Sherpas who are just trying to make a living. Pretty despicable pastime if you want my opinion. And then for people to reproach others for not doing enough to save those people in trouble is completely stupid. None of these people had any business on this mountain unless they were all perfectly willing to die there.

As far as the filming I never knew what was "real" and what was dramatization which robbed the documentary of much of its impact. This is a real shame because there is some amazing footage of the mountain in the film.
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10/10
real footage and story of a great mountain adventure and tragedy
mountainira8 September 2014
If a documentary should take its audience to somewhere they should never otherwise go, then this documentary is a startling success. Real footage shot at one of the most extreme places on Earth, on the deadliest day the mountain has ever known.

The film's greatest weakness is a patch work of acted out fill-ins to help the story along, however, these are understandably necessary additions. Its extraordinary to have any footage at all from such a place.

It will be a long time before we see another mountaineering documentary as real and epic as this one. Well done.
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5/10
horrible editing
paul-8598413 September 2016
I'd like to add to the chorus of voices complaining about The Summit, a collection of poignant interviews, skillfully staged re-creations of actual events, and documentary photographs and film footage, all jumbled together into an almost incomprehensible mess. It's not as if this documentary about the tragic events on K2 in the summer of 2008 is poorly edited, it's more like it wasn't edited at all. Imagine watching a story that has been chopped into pieces, thrown into a blender, and then reassembled by someone suffering from the same hypoxic delirium that contributed to the deaths of some of the climbers. One is left with the feeling of having watched an interesting and compelling story that should have been told in a far more concise and straightforward manner. Unfortunate, too, because it's a heck of a story.
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1/10
botch job
Craig Ashley19 May 2015
I've seen this awful film/documentary a few times and each time I feel something so rotten and so wrong resonating at the core of it... everything, from the production values, the 'trying to be slick' typography to the blatant narcissism of the talking heads: it's pretty grotesque.

It's a mosaic of mostly selfish, odious '90s' people who, in their quest for that flag waving moment atop the - wait for it - summit, simply couldn't care less who else appears in their way.

There's also some pretty transparent agendas here, a thinly-veiled blame culture.

Really, really shocking (for the wrong reasons), confusing and, as a work of art, just as botched, giddy and rushed as the tragedy it describes.
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7/10
7/10 Good Depiction of a Harrowing Story
grantonslow28 February 2018
What I really liked about this movie was that it focused on the true danger of climbing the worlds tallest mountains, moreover the most dangerous, K2. Beautiful imagery has a shock and awe factor similar to what you would experience watching Planet Earth. Some of what you see is truly mesmerizing. For the most part the actors do a great job and it feels as if you're right there on the mountain as they tell their side of the story. The fact that this is based on a true story makes it all the more compelling to watch. Also, its very important to note that the prelogue states "what happened that day remains a mystery even to those who lived to survive the ordeal", meaning the cause of an event may seem unclear and that is because the details around the event are still not fully known.
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10/10
Peculiar fascination and very close to a fictionary
hakanwasen29 May 2017
If You did not know about these climbers before You would think that this was a fictionary. The scenes are so realistic that it took a good while to understand that it not was the real people but actors. I was both fascinated and sometimes annoyed over the behaviour of the climbers. But this was a movie that really got to You.Now we have learned that one of the climbers, the swede Fredrik Sträng will climb the K2 again! Thanks to this movie I will watch every steps he will take ans as i did watching this movie--Why?
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