A molehill has been made of a mountain. Patrick Myers's stunning play about two characters in search of survival on K2, the world's second highest peak, fails to scale any cinematic heights at all.
The original theatrical piece, mounted on Broadway in 1983, has been effectively enlarged, and the two mountain-climbing protagonists given fleshed-out identities. Bachelor Taylor Brooks (Michael Biehn), owner of a silver metallic Porsche convertible, is a wiseguy and womanizing assistant DA,
whose idea of a good time is picking up gals who are "wet, wild and willing." (He'll go to any lengths to impress them, including lithely scampering up the side of a building, like Spiderman, to reach their apartment.) Harold Jamieson (Matt Craven) is an introspective physicist, and happily
married with a young child. They're old friends, ying and yang tempermentally, who share a mutual, obsessive passion for the challenge of the climb.
Philosophically, Harold (nicknamed "H") climbs because, when he stands on top of a mountain, for just a second he feels the truth; Taylor climbs because there are none. (H: "If there are no answers, why don't you look for one?" Taylor: "That's why I climb mountains.") On a recent vacation, a
planned 10-day trip on Mount McKinley, they barely escaped with their lives after an overhead jet created an avalanche. Two in their party died. Understandably, Harold's beautiful Asian-American wife Cindy (Julia Nickson-Soul) isn't at all pleased when the pair decide to scale K2, "the toughest
mountain in the world" because "half of the people who go there don't come back." (At 28,250 feet, it's a bit lower than Everest's 29,028, but is considered a more difficult ascent.)
In Pakistan, they join a team headed by billionare Philip Claiborne (Raymond J. Barry), with Dallas Woolf (Luca Bercovici), Taylor's "sworn enemy" since law school, veteran climber Takane Shimuzu (Hiroshi Fujioka) and Clairborne's girlfriend Jacki Metcalfe (Patricia Charbonneau), who's along for
the ride. Mirroring "Murphy's Law" ("If anything can go wrong, it will"), almost all of the native porters abandon them just four hours from the base camp. There's tons of equipment yet to bring up, but Taylor delivers the mountain climber's equivalent of Henry V's impassioned speech at Agincourt
("We're a team!"), and a few Sherpas remain.
At 20,000 feet, Philip becomes ill, requires oxygen and can't continue. (Wonderful photography here, of the mountain at night, and the geodesic-domed tents lighted from the inside.) Philip gives orders that only two of the four men can go to the summit, Dallas and Takane, but the latter is killed
and the former is missing. By this time, Philip is coughing blood and near death, and Jacki has radioed for a rescue helicopter. But Taylor and "H" are raring to try to reach the summit. Philip warns them that if they're not back in time, within twenty-four hours, they'll leave without them.
Scared, with no rope, tent or oxygen and just one can of chicken soup between them, the pair are successful and plant flags and take photos. On their way back to the camp, "H" falls on a sheet of ice and breaks his leg. They're both stranded on a ledge 1,250 feet below the summit. "H" becomes
delirious and wants to die, and asks Taylor to look after his son. At first, Taylor doesn't want to leave him ("You're the only real friend I have. My work is with scum and lies and compromise. You have grace and nobility.") But Taylor is a born survivor and goes for help. En route, he finds
Dallas's frozen body, takes his rope and drags "H" down the mountain where the chopper appears to save the day and, one assumes, the two of them. (In the play, the ending isn't as hopeful, and "H" likely perishes.)
Much of the filming took place on Mt. Waddington, in Canada, and at the base of the real K2 in the Karakoram range in northern Kashmir. The mountain-climbing sequences are visually scenic and well done. Not so the predictable screenplay and pedestrian acting, which reduces this high-minded attempt
to deal with areas of friendship and personal nobility to a pseudo-sentimental buddy film. The original 95-minute play, a drama with no intermission, almost never got on the boards. Its single stage set, featuring a spectacular 55-foot ice-covered wood and styrofoam mountaintop, was condemned as a
fire hazard by the NYPD. Fortunately, remedial measures were taken and the play opened in time to qualify for that year's Tony Awards--where Ming Cho Lee won one for best scenic design.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: A molehill has been made of a mountain. Patrick Myers's stunning play about two characters in search of survival on K2, the world's second highest peak, fails to scale any cinematic heights at all. The original theatrical piece, mounted on Broadway in 198… (more)