Vertical Limit

Collector's Edition

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Details At A Glance

Category Thriller Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer - City
Audio Commentary - Martin Campbell (Director) & Lloyd Phillips (Producer)
Featurette - Surviving The Limits
Featurette - Vertigo Magic
Featurette - Trekking To K2
Featurette - As Easy As Falling Off A Cliff
Featurette - Avalanche!
Featurette - The Death Zone
Featurette - Peak Performers
Featurette - The Elixir Of Life
Featurette - Credits & Acknowledgements
Featurette - National Geographic Channel's Quest for K2
Cast & Crew Filmographies
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer - All The Pretty Horses
Trailer - The Mask Of Zorro
Web Links
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes)
Year Released 2000
Running Time 119:21 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (82:55)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Martin Campbell
Columbia.gif (3109 bytes)
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Starring Chris O'Donnell
Bill Paxton
Robin Tunney
Scott Glenn
Izabella Scorupco
Temuera Morrison
Stuart Wilson
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music James Newton Howard
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
Hungarian (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Dutch Audio Commentary
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mainly of camping products and related attire
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    If there is one thing that Vertical Limit has in its favour, it is the fact that it is slightly more believable than Cliffhanger, and the characters are ever-so-slightly better developed. However, if the idea of a man named Peter Garrett being a mountain-climber is enough to make you roll around in laughter or tremble with fear and pity for anyone who goes climbing with him, the story is soon reduced to comedy by some glaring factual errors. All in all, however, some of these errors make the film into one interesting rollercoaster ride, with enough stunts and dramatic moments to make the film well worth the effort of watching, which is exactly what I'd expect from the man who directed GoldenEye.

    The film begins with a climbing expedition led by Boyce Garrett (Stuart Wilson) scaling up the side of a mountain in an unspecified location that appears to be part of the USA. Also present are his son Peter (Chris O'Donnell) and daughter Annie (Robin Tunney), with all three being held to be the greatest mountain climbers in the known world. However, this doesn't stop them from belaying one another in the incorrect order (the third belaying the second up the pitch they are climbing), or trouble brewing when other members of the expedition lose their footing and fall. Never mind the fact that anyone who ends up with two people hanging off their stomach would receive severe, possibly even fatal, injuries as a result - this is Hollywood after all. The factual errors just keep rolling along, threatening to utterly sink this film except for the breathtaking action that director Martin Campbell manages to inject into nearly every scene. Anyway, the climb ends with Boyce falling to his death, and Peter being put off climbing for life, or at least until a disaster occurs where he is the only man who can clean up someone else's mess.

    From there, we fast forward about three years to the Himalayas, where the Pakistanis and Indians continue to fight a war while rich mountain climbers come to scale the treacherous heights of the face known as K2. Annie is now the number one mountain climber in the world, and hasn't spoken to her brother in all that time (and this isn't the only plot element borrowed from Cliffhanger, although the others are much less obvious). Also present in the camp are the rich thrillseeker Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton), the mysterious recluse Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), and helicopter pilot Major Rasul (Temuera Morrison). Elliot wants to scale the mountain range in time to wave hello to the first flight of his new airline, and so he leads a party up the beaten track against all warnings that he should turn back because of an approaching storm, and getting trapped as a result.

    As the original party struggle to survive, Peter decides to mount a rescue mission, and thus he takes along another group of idiots mountain climbers, including the very attractive Monique Aubertine (Izabella Scorupco), the wisecracking Cyril Bench (Steve Le Marquand), and his brother Malcolm (Ben Mendelsohn) to go in search of Annie. Now, I don't care what planet you're from, but I think you have to agree with me that when you climb up the most dangerous mountain peak in the world in spite of being repeatedly warned about an imminent storm, you deserve to get stranded up there. This isn't helped by the fact that Robin Tunney fails to inject so much as an iota of character to sympathize with into her role.

    Nonetheless, what we're looking for here is action, not brilliant character development, but the [Ed plot spoiler - highlight with mouse to read.] sacrifice of so many likeable characters to save one who really isn't is hard to get past. Nonetheless, standout performances from Scott Glenn and Bill Paxton, along with some great cinematography, help this film salvage itself into an evening's worth of enjoyment.

Transfer Quality


    Okay, so the plot is a load of tripe, albeit a very entertaining kind of tripe, but how is the transfer? Well, once again, Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment have reached into their little bag of tricks and pulled out a transfer we can all use to show our systems off.

    The transfer is presented with the mattes opened slightly to 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. The transfer is sharp enough to almost make it possible to count each individual flake of snow, with so much detail on offer that the product placements become just that little bit more obvious. The transfer's shadow detail is, in a word, excellent, with plenty of subtle gradations between light and dark on offer during the night-time sequences, or the scenes within the crevice. There is not so much as a hint of low-level noise.

    The colours are faithfully rendered in this transfer, with not so much as a hint of oversaturation or misregistration. A perfect example of this is when the blood pack is used to mark the first expedition's position at 101:38. On other mediums, the edges of the blood and the ice would be bleeding into one another with abandon, but they are smooth and well-defined here.

    MPEG artefacts are not a problem in this transfer, which is saying a lot about the quality of the MPEG encoding system that Columbia Tristar are using when you consider how much video information there is on this disc. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of maybe a handful of very slight instances of aliasing, none of which were in any way distracting, even when they were noticeable. The only instances I considered noteworthy were at 12:19, 20:04, 28:57, and 42:52, with these being very slight examples indeed. Film artefacts consisted of some minor black and white marks on the picture, none of which were intrusive at any time.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place during Chapter 20 at 82:55, which is just after Chris O'Donnell has straightened out Izabella Scorupco's finger. Although the layer change is noticeable, the positioning could not be better.


    Coupled with what is essentially a reference-quality video transfer is a reference-quality audio transfer, with one of the best usages of the surround channels I have heard in a while.

    There are three soundtracks on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, a Hungarian dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 kilobits per second, and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. I listened to the original English dialogue and the audio commentary.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, even during the avalanche sequences when the only dialogue is the characters screaming in fear. There were no perceptible problems with audio sync.

    The score music in this film is credited to James Newton Howard, and an interesting effort it is, at that. Much of the score consists of bold, overstated cues on strings that wouldn't sound out of place in a Bond film. Some have accused the score music of telegraphing the action, while others claim that it tries to replace the character development. Both of those accusations sound like pretty fair claims to me.

    The surround channels were used quite aggressively to support the music, the wind, and even a voice or two. One excellent example of the surround channel usage is at 20:58, where Bill Paxton's voice radiates inward from the fronts and the rears during his little speech. At no time did the soundfield collapse into mono, although this is to be expected from a film that is basically one disaster action set piece after another.

    The subwoofer had a whale of a time supporting the music, explosions, and helicopter sequences. It added a nice little floor to the stunt sequences, which account for pretty much the entire second half of the film, without calling attention to itself.


    Continuing the trend set by Hollow Man, Columbia Tristar have seen fit to bless us with a comprehensive and compelling collection of extras. What sets them apart from the competition is their ability to compress two discs worth of material onto a singular dual-layer disc without making a noticeable compromise in the video or audio quality of the main feature.


    The menu features an interesting introduction, some animation, a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, and 16x9 Enhancement. Navigation is a simple affair, and the menu is quick to respond to user inputs.

Dolby Digital Trailer - City

    The only thing I have to say about this extremely annoying inclusion is that at least I could skip it this time.

Audio Commentary - Martin Campbell (Director) & Lloyd Phillips (Producer)

    Martin Campbell and Lloyd Phillips provide an interesting commentary about the technical challenges of making a film about the world's highest mountain in a relatively serene location like New Zealand. The commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding, as the two participants can be heard in the front and centre channels, while the film's soundtrack is mixed in at a low level with occasional surround channel usage. Much of the commentary revolves around the performances of the actors and the digital insertions, which mostly look quite seamless despite claims to the contrary from critics. One interesting comment is about the lack of visible breath trails at the vertical limit, which critics dismissed as unrealistic, but real mountain climbers apparently told Martin and Lloyd that the air would be too dry at that altitude. This is yet another excellent example of a commentary track as an educational device, with an excellent explanation for the reasons behind the use of the 1.85:1, as opposed to 2.35:1, ratio.

Featurette - Surviving The Limits

   Clocking in at twenty-four minutes and two seconds, this featurette is presented Full Frame, with some footage in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - Vertigo Magic

   From the special features menu, when one selects Search And Rescue Tales, they are taken to a submenu with eight points on a wireframe of the mountain. From there, this is the first featurette on the list. Clocking in at five and a half minutes, this featurette is presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and footage from the film in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 without 16x9 Enhancement.

Featurette - Trekking To K2

   The second featurette from the wireframe mountain menu, this is also presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and footage from the film in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Clocking in at seven minutes and fifteen seconds, this featurette covers a climbing team's journey to the base of the mountain in the film, using footage that has obviously been sourced from a camcorder. Considering the source material, the video quality is very good.

Featurette - As Easy As Falling Off A Cliff

   Another Full Frame featurette with footage from the film in 1.85:1 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, this five minute and five second featurette covers the logistics of shooting the film.

Featurette - Avalanche!

   Clocking in at three minutes and twenty-two seconds, this featurette covers the most fearsome event that can happen to mountain climbers. It is presented Full Frame with footage from the film in 1.85:1 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

Featurette - The Death Zone

   Another three-and-a-half-minute featurette with Full Frame and 1.85:1 footage, plus a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This featurette talks about the process by which people die at altitudes above twenty-four thousand feet.

Featurette - Peak Performers

   Clocking in at exactly three minutes, this Full Frame (with footage from the film in 1.85:1), Dolby Digital 5.1 featurette deals with the stuntmen who worked on the film.

Featurette - The Elixir Of Life

   This featurette (presented in the same manner as the others in this mountain sub-menu) deals with the hazards of high-altitude climbing and the drugs used to fight off fluid build-up in the lungs. The four minute and seven second running length is somewhat deceptive, as this featurette is actually somewhat enlightening about a critical plot element.

Featurette - Credits & Acknowledgements

   This is the last featurette from the wireframe mountain menu, presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. This one-minute and fifteen-second featurette lists all the people responsible for putting together the featurettes, who definitely deserve the credit they get.

Featurette - National Geographic Channel's Quest for K2

   Clocking in at twelve minutes and fifty-four seconds, this Full Frame, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette covers various real-life attempts to scale the K2 mountain depicted in the film.

Cast & Crew Filmographies

    Filmographies for Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, producer Lloyd Phillips, and director Martin Campbell are provided under this submenu.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and 16x9 Enhancement, this two-minute trailer did an excellent job of selling the film when I saw it in theatres, and it does an equally fine job now.

Trailer - All The Pretty Horses

   Presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this two minute and twenty-eight second trailer leads me to add another entry to the list of films to avoid.

Trailer - The Mask Of Zorro

   Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, this one minute and forty-seven second trailer does a great job of selling another action extravaganza from Martin Campbell. It is not 16x9 Enhanced, however.

Web Links

    A pox on the damned things, say I.


    There are no censorship issues with this title.

R4 vs R1

    Interestingly, the Region 1 version of this title has not been released as yet. It is scheduled for release on May 22, 2001 . From the limited information I have found, it appears that the two versions are more or less identical. The local disc would therefore be the version of choice, especially considering the lack of 3:2 pulldown artefacts, which I would expect to be rather noticeable in some shots.


    Vertical Limit is a film that, in spite of some really glaring factual errors, can be enjoyed with relative ease. A lot of the criticisms levelled at the film by all the fussy types are either without merit or irrelevant to the entertainment value of the film, even if it is one action set-piece after another. Before I started watching the film for this review, I was tossing up between a rating of three and a half or four stars for the plot. Having sat through the commentary and all the featurettes now, I think a four-star rating is appropriate, which says something about the quality of the overall disc.

    The video transfer is excellent, with less faults in two hours than a lot of recent discs that I've seen have in twenty minutes.

    The audio transfer is also excellent, with a stunning example of surround channel usage early on in the film setting a consistent standard.

    The extras are comprehensive and enlightening.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
May 12, 2001 
Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer