To describe Touching the Void
as a mountaineering documentary would be to do this breathtaking drama an injustice. By intercutting narration from the climbers themselves with a nail-biting reconstruction of their remarkable adventure in the Peruvian Andes, the film has the best of both genres: the authentic stamp of factual storytelling and the edge-of-the-seat tension of a dramatic movie.
In 1985, two British mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, embarked on a daring--arguably reckless in the extreme--attempt to climb the previously unconquered mountain Suila Grande. A mixture of overconfidence in their own abilities and underestimation of the climb's difficulties brought them to grief after the successful slog to the summit. What follows is an often harrowing account of their perilous descent, during which Joe horribly shatters his leg and Simon is forced to cut the support rope on which Joe's life, quite literally, is hanging by the proverbial thread. It's no secret that both climbers lived to tell the tale, but at every stage the audience will be left guessing just how the crippled Simpson could possibly have found the inner strength to surmount each deadly trial.
Based on Joe Simpson's gripping book, the film boasts glorious widescreen photography of Suila Grande and its notorious glacier. Actors take the place of the two climbers for close-ups, though Simpson did return to Peru in order to re-enact parts of his dreadful crawl back down the ice. The story of Simpson's almost superhuman fortitude has become legendary in climbing circles, and even for viewers uninterested in mountaineering, Touching the Void is an astonishing slice of real-life drama, magnificently retold.
On the DVD: Touching the Void is presented on disc in anamorphic widescreen, which makes the most of the glorious vistas, and Dolby 5.1 sound. The two extras are fairly short but both are invaluable appendices to the main feature: What Happened Next tells in their own words how the team made it back home; while Return to Suila Grande finds both Joe and Simon back at the mountain in the summer of 2002 to advise on the filming; emotions are mixed at best, as Simon seems unable to express his real feelings about the experience, and Joe finds himself painfully reliving the ordeal in his mind, as well as in front of the cameras. --Mark Walker
Kevin MacDonald's ('A Day in September') docu-drama is based on a true story. In 1985 two ambitious young British mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, set off to scale the treacherous west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. They reached the summit on day three, but shortly after starting the descent Simpson fell and broke his leg badly. This accident turned their daring expedition into a desperate fight for survival, when Yates had to decide whether to stay with Simpson and wait to be rescued (and possibly die) or leave him behind to save his own life.