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A movie directed by Franc Roddam

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K2 ~ "Remember ‘H' - chance of a lifetime...."

  • Aug 21, 2000
Pros: H ~ climbs because on top he feels 'the truth'

Cons: Taylor - climbs because there are no truths

Since stumbling across the book Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer, I would assume you could consider me slightly intrigued with the entire concept of losing yourself to desire. No matter what your desire may be - learning French, becoming a gourmet cook, understanding your children, learning to swim, falling in love or climbing a mountain - desire is an addicting drug indeed. Why I have been on this quest - or desire to learn - about mountain climbing makes no sense to me, climbing mountains is something SusiDee will never do. Empathetically! Between age, smoking and laziness, SusiDee can barely walk from the bathroom to the computer without taking a break. But the joy of it, the awe of it, the desire of it - this has been my quest. I finally found the answer to this desire, this dream, this quest.

K2 - The Ultimate High is not a great movie, at times it is not even a good movie. As a Broadway play (something I cannot fathom at all), it was a miserable failure - a solitary set featuring a 55 foot mountain that had to shut down because the NYPD considered it a fire hazard. When it corrected the problem and reopened, this marvel garnered a Tony for best scenic design. As it moved on to the screen it fattened up the story, added some characters, added some fantastic music, and added the scenery.

The movie was filmed partially on Mt. Waddington, Canada, and in Kashmir, at the base of the real K2., the world's second highest peak - Everest's junior sister. There is nothing remarkable about the acting in the movie, nothing remarkable about the dialogue. The story line is somewhat predictable. There were, however, two things I learned from this movie. One thing, of course, I already knew. Friendship, being a pal, being a buddy - these things are above all else, the most important things in life. Without a friend, buddy, pal, you are not grounded, no matter who or what that friend, buddy or pal may be. It can be your spouse, your child, any family member. It can be the person next door, someone at work, or that guy belaying you at 20,000 feet. Friendship is what grounds you to your spirit, your soul.

The other thing I learned from this movie was the overpowering lure of the mountain. I walked up Everest with Jon Krakauer and observed his horror and pain. I also saw the beauty of the mountain but I never felt the lure. I shivered in the tent with Ruth Kocour on Denali and relived her pain and desolation. I also saw the beauty of the mountain but I never felt the lure. With Taylor Brooks (Michael Biehn) and Harold Jameson (Matt Craven) I saw the beauty of K2 and I finally felt the lure of the mountain. What could have possibly been different about this movie from any other I have seen or any book I have read?

Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain and Music Composer Chaz Jankel have made a marriage of beauty and sound and have involved you. The majestic shots of the mountain, both day and night, coupled with the music, have added a dimension that the others did not. The sky is so blue it breaks your heart, the snow is so white it glows. The very emptiness of the landscape adds reality rather than detract from it.

There are many scenes I wish I could convey to you but mere words could not due them justice. In one, as Taylor and ‘H' make their first ascent up the side of Mt. McKinley, they run into another climbing team. Incredibly, these people are attached to the side of the mountain by a simple rope and harness - one even in a hammock - and they plan to spend the night hanging on the side of the mountain. Looking down, you see the sheer drop of 10,000 feet below you - it is breathtaking. Later, they show a night scene on McKinley with the purple cragged peaks in the background, snow piled all around and the tents illuminated from the inside by their lanterns - all the tents in different colors looking like some willful child has dumped a box of crayons on the snow. Finally, the ascent of K2 by Taylor and ‘H' - the sheer precipice of glistening snow outlined by the blue skies, their bright blue and orange suits against the backdrop of snow - incredible.

The music only filters through occasionally, but when it does it is powerful. A sort of mixture between Pink Floyd and the New York Philharmonic, weaving its' sound with a soulful guitar, drawing you up the side of the mountain. Sometimes soft and caressing, sometimes shoving its' way at you hard and brass, but always alluring. At times it is beautiful, at times it is painful. At times the music is as desolate as the mountain itself.

There is death in this movie. There is abandonment. There is heartbreak. There is love and peace and a feeling of completeness. There is leaving your job, your family, your friends. There is nothing pretty about the story as you watch these two men (the playboy and the family man) turn their backs on all the things they love to reach the summit that beckons them. There is nothing pretty about the story as you watch the playboy (Taylor) walk off and leave his climbing partner, the family man (‘H'), to freeze to death. It is just a story of two men reaching an unconquerable summit without losing their dream, their desire.

Why did it entrance me, how did it lure me, what was my desire? Ah, the freedom, of course, the unbearable freedom.

This movie was dedicated to Jim Wickwire, attorney, and Lou Reichard, biophysicist, who were the first Americans to conquer K2 - 9/6/78


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Susi Dawson ()
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About this movie


Two friends risk it all to climb the legendary "Savage Mountain" in northern Pakistan, unaware that the only thing standing between themselves and sure death is the loyalty of friendship.
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Director: Franc Roddam
Release Date: 1992
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: Front Row Entertainment (June 25, 2001)
Runtime: 1hr 44min
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