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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Vertical Limit (Superbit) (2000)

"Up there you're not dying. You're dead."
- Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: April 23, 2002

Stars: Chris O'Donnell, Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton, Scott Glenn
Other Stars: NicholasLea, Izabella Scorupco, Temura Morrison
Director: Martin Campbell

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for life/death situations, brief language
Run Time: 02h:04m:18s
Release Date: March 19, 2002
UPC: 043396088344
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-A+A+ D

DVD Review

That shot. It's what comes to me whenever I think about Martin Campbell's Vertical Limit. Those who have seen the trailer or other advertisements for the film know of the single, breathtaking moment of which I speak. Left with no options, a climber must reach the opposite side of a gorge on the perilous K2. Fearing nothing, the climber races to the edge of the crevasse and jumps, wildly flailing the two pickaxes with which he will hook himself where he lands. There is enough, right there, to leave one wanting more. However, it doesn't end up offering much more than that one amazing moment.

Peter Garrett (O'Donnell) is an experienced mountain climber who has been retired from the sport for several years following the death of his father during a climbing accident. His sister Annie (Tunney), on the other hand, still participates in the sport and is known widely as something of an authority and serves as a guide for inexperienced climbers. Peter and Annie meet at the base of K2, the second highest peak in the world next to Mt. Everest for different reasons: He is there as a photographer for National Geographic and she is there to lead eccentric billionaire Elliot Vaughn (Paxton) to the summit. Vaughn's reasons for reaching the top are purely commercial; he hopes to stand at the top while the inaugural flight of his new airline flies overhead. With the help of experienced climber Tom McLaren (Lea), Vaughn hopes to reach the top and be back before supper, and why shouldn't he, since McLlaren is receiving a cool million to get him there in a hurry. Things go wrong when an avalanche hits and the group become trapped in a cave with little oxygen and frigid temperatures. Soon Peter is suiting up along with a group of rescuers, including Montgomery Wick (Glenn), to save them.

Beyond that awesome marketing image, the main reason for my desire to see Vertical Limit was the direction of Martin Campbell. In the past, Campbell has made memorable films that feature heart-racing action set pieces. Sadly though, the director that brought us Goldeneye and The Mask of Zorro seems to be in service of a script that fails to offer the chance for the caliber of work Campbell has done so well in the past. Action scenes, which are surprisingly scant considering the nature of the film, seem injected only to result in yet another obstacle for the rescuers to overcome before they can save the day. Even the inclusion of nitroglycerine canisters fails to offer any sort of excitement; instead, these dangerous containers seem to break only when an explosion is needed to fuel the story. How else would one explain the fact that one canister gets knocked around quite often without event, while another simply gets a shove and sets off an avalanche?

Also hampering Vertivcal Limit is the problem that Campbell never takes full advantage of the large canvas available to him. Much of the time he relies on close ups, giving the film a claustrophobic feel that works in the interiors of the cave, but fails to convey the immense mountain the rescue team is struggling to climb. Campbell's previous films were shot in scope and took full advantage of the widescreen system. Here, he uses a matted presentation that just doesn't work.

The large cast, led by a collection of familiar supporting actors, is a bit of a hit and miss effort. O'Donnell's work here feels uninspired and is flawed by the fact that he does not make a convincing action hero. His scenes with Glenn work, but otherwise his performance is uneventful. Tunney, whose work in The Craft and Niagara, Niagara is proof that she is a competent actress, is criminally underused here. Many of her scenes are opposite Paxton and are flat and lacking in chemistry. Paxton, Lea, and former Bond girl Izabella Scorupco round out the cast in forgettable performances.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Given that this is one of the most recent films to have been given the Superbit treatment, it should not be surprising that this disc is an absolute pleasure to look at. I watched the film using a progressive scan DVD player on a high definition widescreen television and nearly ever scene looked fantastic. The colors are the most noticeable improvement over the previous version; the bright colors of the clothing and the harsh whites of the snow-covered mountain come off crisp and vibrant. There are absolutely no print flaws to be found and edge enhancement is never a factor.

A comparison between the original disc and this Superbit release proves the latter to be the easy winner. Taking chapter 10 as a bench test, the bit rate for the original bounced between 5 and 6, while the bit rate of the Superbit edition remained a steady 9 to 10.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: As is the case with every Superbit release, Vertical Limit features both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS surround mixes. The track on the previous release was already reference quality, so the Superbit is understandably one of the best mixes you are likely to hear. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout, with echoes in the caverns particularly stunning. In the surround speakers, ambient sounds and action fill the room with amazing separation. The .1 LFE channel offers tightly defined bass that rumbles the room, especially in the scenes involving the numerous avalanches.

The DTS track is the hands down winner in a head to head comparison as it offers tighter bass and much cleaner separation in nearly every channel. .

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: As a Superbit release, there are no extra features included on the disc. The menu system is fairly generic with 28 image-based chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The Superbit line is certainly the best way to enjoy Vertical Limit, thanks to amazing video and audio quality, but the film is not the most deserving of this treatment. Campbell has missed his mark here.


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