Wednesday, February 12, 2014

IFC's THE SUMMIT (2013) DVD: Get a View of Deadly Heights From the Comfort of Your Couch

The Summit (2013)

Buy the DVD

The Movie

In August, 2008, 18 mountain climbers reached the top of K2. 48 hours later, 11 people were dead. While memorials paid tribute to those killed, there were also condemnations about ‘the why.' Why do these athletes risk everything to reach a place humans are simply not meant to go?
So reads IFC's synopsis of THE SUMMIT, a documentary on the catastrophic event from 2008 that features reenactments based on the testimony of those who survived the climb. As such, it's not quite your typical documentary, but more in the vein of something that you may see from Errol Morris; if, of course, Morris made documentaries about people climbing mountains. That's not to say that THE SUMMIT is on par with Morris' documentary work, but personally, I found it to be damn fascinating.

While I have absolutely no aspirations of ever climbing a mountain myself, I do have an affinity for nature documentaries when they are well done. Something about watching other people's footage of places that I will probably never go, from vantage points that I will never see, just sucks me in. And you have to respect nature, as it is an unpredictable force that man knows he can never fully tame, but that we continually try to. And in most cases, my take is exactly that of the folks at FAMILY GUY: "Damn, Nature, You Scary!"

These things are probably a huge reason why Discovery's SHARK WEEK is always so popular. Would you go swimming with sharks? Probably not. Now think about climbing the second highest mountain on Earth... Would you do that? Probably not.

Yet, people do try, and while some are successful, others are not. Some get to walk away to either go back to their normal lives; others die trying. And as that initial synopsis asks, why do these people do that? This is the core of what THE SUMMIT tries to understand, and what we, the viewers, are presented with and left to come to our own conclusions.

We are given interviews with people who were actually there for the incidents, along with reenactments based on those accounts. We also get the story of one of the first Italian climbers to ever successfully scale K2 back in the 1950s. The combination paints a picture that differentiates the technology available then, and what we have now. And, ultimately, I couldn't help but wonder if our obsession with technology as a culture is creating an unintentional unpreparedness.

Yet, it becomes easy to understand at least part of the reason that people engage in these activities. When you get a good look at these beautiful vistas, you can only imagine what it would be like to witness the views for yourself. But is it worth the risks to do so? In my estimation, no, it is not. Still, I can see why certain individuals may think that it is. The cinematography in THE SUMMIT is stunning at times, and I can only imagine how much more powerful it might be when projected on a large theatrical screen; let alone, in real life.

If you enjoy documentaries about Man vs Nature - or even documentaries in general - then THE SUMMIT is an easy recommend. However, if you are a climbing enthusiast, you may want to approach the understanding that these scenarios can be horribly dangerous, and I imagine the film might make you think twice about that next climb. 

Movie Score



IFC brings THE SUMMIT home on DVD as part of their Sundance Selects line. The film won the award for Best Editing when it played the festival, and it's easy to understand why. However, the release is hardly a step above a barebones edition, as there really are no special features to speak of.

Video Quality

The MPEG-2 encode of THE SUMMIT on this disc comes in at roughly about 4Mbps, which isn't too surprising, given the limitations of DVD. For most documentaries, this is more than enough, but at times, when the film presents sweeping vistas, or dark nighttime scenes, it would be preferrable to have a nice AVC-encoded Blu-ray. Still, blocking is minimal, and the movie looked just fine when upscaled to 1080p on my Blu-ray player.

Audio Quality

THE SUMMIT features a decent 5.1 AC3-encoded audio track, which again, is pretty standard at this point. Given that it is a documentary, surround sound is not an essential part of the presentation, and the track is certainly not demo material for your home theater. However, that's not a slam against it, as it is definitely serviceable and has a nice mix to it. The film's haunting score sounds great in surround, and some of more action-heavy reenactment scenes do work the rear channels and subwoofer

Extra Features

As mentioned IFC's DVD release of THE SUMMIT is pretty much a barebones affair, with only a single "Special Feature" on the disc.

  • Trailer: This feature is pretty much self explanatory

Final Thoughts

I watch a lot of documentaries, and while THE SUMMIT is certainly not the best that I've ever seen, it is a good film. As such, I have no problem recommending it. It would probably play better on Blu-ray, as it would benefit from from a more detailed, HD presentation and, perhaps, a lossless audio track. However, given that the subject matter is definitely Special Interest, I can understand why IFC went the DVD-only route. Likewise, I can also understand why the film has practically no special features, though had some been included, I would have enjoyed going through them.


DVD Score


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