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Let's not fool ourselves; VERTICAL LIMIT ($28) is a popcorn movie plain and simple. If you are looking for an action movie with a true level of emotional depth, check out CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON because you aren't going to find it in VERTICAL LIMIT. Those, however, who are willing to check their brain at the door, will find that VERTICAL LIMIT offers its own rewards. Fans of impossible stunt work; great digital special effects and explosive soundtracks are going to go absolutely gaga for this DVD.


Although the film's opening sequence is strangely reminiscent of CLIFFHANGER, VERTICAL LIMIT provides enough originality, with its story of a reluctant hero who needs to redeem himself in the midst of high altitude peril. Chris O'Donnell portrays Peter Garrett, a national geographic wildlife photographer, who braves K2- the world's most dangerous mountain, in order to rescue his sister Annie (Robin Tunney) and two other members of her expedition, after an avalanche traps them in an ice cave near the summit. Bill Paxton plays the film's requisite antagonist, Elliot Vaughn, a millionaire industrialist, whose refusal to abandon his ill-advised climb ends in disaster. Finally, there's Scott Glenn as obsessed climber Montgomery Wick, who leads the rescue team despite having spent the last four years of his life looking for his wife's body, which was lost in an earlier climbing disaster.

Director Martin Campbell effectively stages the film's numerous adrenaline pumping action sequences. Campbell keeps the film's pacing as brisk as possible, so that the audience won't have time to think about the plot's gaping holes in logic. The mountaintop cinematography is awe inspiring, as are jaw-dropping stunts- many of which test the level of credibility. A couple of the digital composites are a bit obvious; but for the most part, the digital effects appear seamless. VERTICAL LIMIT is one of those films that make me question whether screenwriting has becomes a lost art form, especially since the stunts and special effects are given emphasis over characterization. The actors do try to bring their characters to life, however the film's screenplay treats them as little more than walking props. The cast of VERTICAL LIMIT also includes Izabella Scorupco, Nicholas Lea, Alexander Siddig, Robert Taylor, Temuera Morrison, Stuart Wilson, Augie Davis, Steve Le Marquand and Ben Mendelsohn.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made VERTICAL LIMIT available in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 playback. VERTICAL LIMIT is a very good-looking new movie and the transfer definitely reflects that fact. The image on the DVD appears very crisp and highly detailed- coming very, very close to demo worthy material. Colors are strongly rendered, with highly appealing flesh tones. A number of the more vibrant hues almost seem to pop off the screen, especially up against the film’s snowy white backgrounds. For the most part, colors are highly stable, with no discernable signs of bleeding. Blacks are dead on accurate, plus the whites are completely stable and the image produces tremendous depth. Clean dual layer authoring prevents digital compression artifacts from becoming noticeable during the presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is an absolute knockout! VERTICAL LIMIT has got the fingerprints of aggressively mixed action movie all over it. This is a completely immerse sound mix, which places the viewer in the middle of the film's sonic environment from the moment the film begins until the moment it ends. All of the channels are highly active and completely convincing, especially the split surround channels, which seem to be almost constantly engaged. The forward soundstage has a very wide and spacious presence that convincingly wraps around the viewer into the rear channels. Stationary sound effects have precise placement, while others effortlessly pan around the entire 360-degree environment. Dialogue is clean, fully intelligible and never buried in the film's avalanche of sound effects. It should come as no surprise that the bass channel is completely ground shaking and explosive. James Newton Howard 's score is nicely recorded and integrated into the mix with its full musical integrity. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound are present to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some nice supplemental features. Director Martin Campbell and producer Lloyd Phillips participate in a very interesting running audio commentary that contains a lot of behind-the-scenes technical information. Also included on the DVD is the 24-minute HBO First Look special: Surviving Vertical Limit. Although PR heavy, this is a better than average making of feature with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. There is an interactive section entitled Search and Rescue Tales, which takes a look at seven different elements of the production. A cool feature is the included 13-minute National Geographic program entitled Quest For K2. This documentary takes viewers to the world most unrelenting mountain and introduces them to actual climbers that have braved K2 and lived to talk about the experience. The VERTICAL LIMIT also features its own theatrical trailer, as well as bonus trailers for CLIFFHANGER, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and CHARLIE’S ANGELS.

No one will confuse VERTICAL LIMIT with great cinema, but if you are willing to set your suspension of disbelief to auto-pilot, the DVD will make for an enjoyable two hours of popcorn entertainment. In addition, the DVD looks great and the soundtrack is demonstration quality, so you may just want to check out the fine Columbia TriStar disc, just on its technical merits alone.


Vertical Limit (Special Edition)


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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