K2 (1991)

Rating: C+

Dir: Franc Roddam
Star: Michael Biehn, Matt Craven, Annie Grindlay, Elena Wohl

Based on, of all things, a stage-play, it’s hard to see how it could have been an adaptation, given the undeniable physical spectacle involved. Biehn and Craven play climbing buddies, the former brash, the latter cautious and with a wife waiting nervously in the wings. They get roped (ho-ho-ho!) into an expedition to climb K2, and…well, you can probably guess the rest, as their party battles internal tensions, rapidly-closing in weather, the mountain, etc. The first hour of the film is largely filler, albeit very scenic, even if Chas Jankel’s score seems to be out-takes from a Pink Floyd album; unlike Vertical Limit the makers actually went to Pakistan, although they also used a stand-in (Canadian here) for K2 itself.

This does give it a sense of place, with very little use of stages or sets. But it’s only when – and it’s not much of a spoiler – our heroes reach the top that it starts to make a mark, by asking questions about loyalty in adversity. Craven is excellent: vulnerable, yet able to put across some idea of why people take part in such lunatic endeavours. [Interesting stat: at the time the film was made, for every three people who’d climbed K2, one had died on it…] Biehn spends too much of the film being a jerk to be a good lead character; he really isn’t the sort of person I’d want on the other end of my rope. It’s an attempt to build a flawed hero, only the flaws end up infecting the film as well.