Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Touching the Void

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
8 out of 10
Extras Rating:
8 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: R

Starring:
Joe Simpson as Himself
Simon Yates as Himself
Richard Hawking as Himself
Nicholas Aaron as Simon Yates
Brendan Mackey as Joe Simpson
Ollie Ryall as Richard Hawking

Special Features:
Theatrical trailer(s)

Making-of featurette

"Return to Siula Grande" featurette

"What Happened Next" interview with Joe Simpson and Simon Yates

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Synopsis:
This true story is based on the novel by Joe Simpson, one of the men that survived this deadly experience.

"Joe Simpson and Simon Yates set out to climb the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. It was 1985 and the men were young, fit, skilled climbers. The west face, remote and treacherous, had not been climbed before. Following a successful 3-day ascent, disaster struck. Simpson fell a short distance and broke several bones in his leg. With no hope of rescue, the men decided to attempt descent together with Yates lowering Simpson 300 feet at a time in a slow, painful process that could have potentially been deadly for both. One further misstep led to Yates unknowingly lowering his injured partner over the lip of a crevasse. With the gradient having gone from steep to vertical, he was no longer able to hold on. Certain they were about to be pulled jointly to their deaths -- the only choice was to cut the rope."

Touching The Void is rated R for language.

The Movie:
"Touching the Void" is a true story very much in the spirit of "Alive" and the novel "Into Thin Air". The story is apparently legendary among mountaineering circles, too. Not only is it an amazing story of human survival, but it is also surrounded by controversy and questions about how the events unfolded. Most of the drama centers around the turning point where Simon Yates must make the decision to either sacrifice both himself and Joe or just Joe by cutting the rope. It's a harrowing tale that would almost be too incredible to believe if it weren't a true story. And as it turns out, that decision to cut the rope is just the beginning of the survival tale.

Touching the Void is a unique telling of a true story. It's a mix of documentary and dramatization. As actors reenact the events, the real Joe and Simon give firsthand accounts of their thoughts and feelings of the events as they narrate. It adds an extra dimension to the storytelling and it helps elevate the story to another more personal level. The fact that the men narrate the film kind of tells you how the movie ends, but it doesn't make it any less harrowing. I was stunned to hear what Joe went through and the decisions that he had to make, but I don't want to spoil any of it by discussing it here. You'll have to check it out for yourself.

The film is beautifully shot. The mountain scenery is simply stunning and the film does an excellent job of capturing its beauty and menace. They get some amazing shots of the climbers ascending the mountain, weathering storms, and crossing glaciers. It's quite a feat for them to get their equipment up there and get the shots.

The only problem with the film is the fact that it's hard to sympathize with these climbers. If someone chooses to climb hundreds of feet up a vertical wall of ice, they seem to be just asking for trouble. As you see them repeatedly about to lose their lives, you have to think that "Because it's there" isn't that great of a reason to climb a mountain. Still, despite the fact that they got themselves into that bad mess, you root for them to make it out alive and you can't help but marvel at their endurance. It's an interesting look at the human mind when it is in full survival mode.

The Extras:
There are a few extras included on this DVD:

Making-of featurette This is a show that was originally presented on the Independent Film Channel. It features extensive interviews with director Kevin MacDonald, Joe Simpson, and Simon Yates. They talk about the challenges of filming the movie in the mountains, what it was like for the actors, and more. There are also bits from Joe and Simon's return to Peru (which are seen again in the next bonus feature). You also learn that Joe plays himself in some of the long distance scenes in the film. It's an interesting bit of trivia. The feature is about a half hour long and there's a ton of behind the scenes footage. If you liked the movie, you'll really be interested in this.

"Return to Siula Grande" featurette In this feature, Joe, Simon, and Richard are shown returning to Peru for the first time since the event for the filming of the movie. For Joe, it's not exactly a cathartic experience. It actually ends up dragging up old memories that seem to traumatize him further. Simon, on the other hand, seems to play down the experience an eventually gets angered by the constant questioning of his feelings about the experience. In fact, he ends all association with the production after this documentary is made. It's a surprising feature that sheds new light on the film.

"What Happened Next" interview with Joe Simpson and Simon Yates In this feature, Joe, Simon, and Richard talk about what happened where the movie abruptly left off. They discuss how they got off the mountain, returned to civilization, and attempted to get medical attention. Some of their experiences in returning are as interesting and harrowing as their experience on the mountain. It's a nice epilogue to the film.

The Bottom Line:
If you're interested in true stories of survival, mountaineering, or human dramas, then Touching the Void is a film well worth checking out.

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