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- Story -
Touching The Void tells the true story of a couple of young mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who vow to climb to the summit of Siula Grande back in 1985, a large mountain in Peru - this being a feat that had previously never been achieved before. Inbetween scenes recreating this journey are scenes whereby Joe and Simon narrate to camera, keeping the true story side of it very much alive. Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan and Joe sustains a fairly severe injury to his leg following by Simon mistakenly believing that Joe has gone for good and he makes the decision to carry on without him. Joe is actually alive and so has to make the perilous journey to rejoin him on his own which is no mean feat!. What happens and can his leg be saved? you'll have to watch the movie to find out
- Thoughts & Opinions -
When the movie first started, I somehow felt a bit disappointed that this movie clearly wasn't a really big bdget action drama type movie and yet I was wrong - I feared that it'd become a rather bland, somewhat slow documentary charting two people slowly climbing a mountain and that I'd lose interest possibly mid way through but I now feel quite guilty for almost writing it off as such.
While watching the film, I noticed the use of the classical score which I appreciated as it really brings home the desperation felt by the two main characters and make it more moving. The lack of any score in some parts brings home the sheer isolation that was clearly felt and you can see the reaction of the men during the shots of them narrating to camera which again can be quite intense and emotive. Hearing them talk individually about where they thought they stood (no pun intended) in terms of their position to one another and their waning contact with one another, is really quite frustrating, as we see their actions played out on screen in between narration screens. There really is a strong sense of sheer abandonment which carries on throughout the movie, its quite chilling hearing Joe's depserate cries as he believes he's done for and hearing the echoes bounce back, while also having Joe explain to camera his state of mind at the time, explaining his thought and actions. Its quite uncomfortable viewing in parts, especially when the injury occurs, which isn't graphic but you can clearly hear the sheer pain in his voice, which is obviously quite uncomfortable to hear, particularly when you know that this is what really happened - 127 hours this isn't but its still unsettling nonetheless and probably not one for the very squeamish. Towards the end of the movie, things get more intense and there are some scenes of presumed hallucinations, mostly disorientation, so be aware of that. Obviously this has a 15 rating for fairly obvious reasons, I wouldn't recommend playing it with children around, although it probably wouldn't interest them at first but it does become quite engrossing and a bit disturbing in a sense if they were to watch it with you.
What particularly adds to the atmosphere of this movie isn't just the classical score and the narration scenes where the men themselves speak and emote to camera their state of minds but also the cinematography. There are some impressive scenes that really give the viewer an idea of how large the mountain/mountain range is, long sweeping landscape shots of the area that makes you realise how tiny they must have appeared from all the way up there in the sky - there are also other shots that are the opposite, that give you a sense from the ground up in terms of what they've achieved and the sheer scale of what they had left to accomplish. Given these scenes, particularly at the start of the movie, it made me wish I had a larger size screen to watch this on, as im sure it'd look alot more impressive on a large screen.
This is a movie where you seriously wish that you could intervene, while at the same time I felt some admiration for Joe for him really clinging on to life, having such a strong will but on the other hand, I suppose the film also highlights the foolhardiness these men had. I suppose this is a movie that most mountaineers should watch at some point or another, if it'll make people think twice about taking on such climbs or whatnot, maybe thats a good thing(?), mind you I get the feeling with the way adrenalin works and some peoples determination, it would take a minor miracle to stop some people from doing what they want...
This is a film that at first you somehow don't expect too much from, it seems almost like a regular documentary about two guys setting out to climb a mountain but it does become really quite engrossing, a gripping and quite moving movie. If there's any real criticism to be had, as far as im concerned, I'd say it'd be that the ending is a bit quick - while there's text on screen which gives some brief detail about what happened afterwards, it does seem to end rather abruptly.
- Would I Recommend It? -
Overall I can't fault the performances, the special effects and especially the cinematography. The atmosphere this film creates is somewhat intense at times and its definitely a cut above other documentaries/films. The only reasons to not reccomend this film, I feel, would be if your particularly squeamish or would find it distressing - it isn't what I'd call overly graphic but of course there are the inevitable scenes that are uncomfortable to watch, thats what makes it all the more authentic and real, which will appeal to some, even most viewers but for others, it may not be their 'thing''. If this doesn't apply then yes, of course I'd recommend this.
Thanks for reading my review, as always I hope you found it useful. Thanks for all rates and comments, I appreciate them. This review was originally posted on Ciao UK.
If big Hollywood directors ever need an object lesson in how to build tension (and goodness knows, some of them do), they could do a lot worse than look at Touching the Void.
This low budget 2003 film focuses on the real life story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. In 1985, the two tried to be the first men to climb the west face of the Siula Grande Mountain in the Peruvian Andes only for disaster to strike on the descent.
All of which sounds like (heaven forbid!) a pitch for Cliffhanger 2. In fact, it's something far more powerful and what it lacks in action, it more than makes up for in tension.
This building up of this tension is a major achievement because, in one sense, Director Kevin Macdonald does everything wrong. Right from the beginning, we know that both men survived their ordeal (because we see them being interviewed, recalling the events being portrayed). That should hamstring the film, since it's obvious that, however bad things get, both men come through. Yet despite this, whenever I watch this film, even though I know exactly what happens, I can feel myself tensing up during certain sections, fearful that maybe this time the outcome will be different and one of them will not survive.
This is credit to the way Macdonald structures the film. Using a mixture of talking head interviews with Simpson, Yates and Richard Hawking (the third member of the team) and dramatic reconstruction, the story unveils slowly. Rather than plunging straight into the disaster part of the story, Macdonald spends time on their successful climb to the summit. This has two effects. Firstly: we become interested in the two men and feel part of their obvious friendship; so when they are placed in peril, we care about their fate. Secondly: it establishes the fact that both were experienced and competent climbers, not a pair of idiotic amateurs who were asking for trouble. Whilst they might have made mistakes (something both freely admit) this means we are far more sympathetic towards them than we might otherwise be.
Both Simpson and Yates make for engaging interviewees. They seem very natural in front of the camera and recall events in an interesting and open way. It's particularly interesting to watch the body language of the two men. Indeed, this is often more revealing than the words spoken. Yates is open and chatty, but his body language can become quite defensive in some segments (the result of some of the personal criticism he has received from fellow mountain climbers). Simpson, on the other hand, obviously finds the act of recollection both cathartic and painful at times. Touching the Void is not always easy viewing as the events portrayed in this film have clearly left some lasting mental scars and it can leave a slight feeling of uneasiness in the viewer that old wounds are being reopened in the name of entertainment.
Touching the Void is deliberately non-judgemental. It allows Simpson, Yates and Hawking to present their story without passing comment on whether their actions were right and wrong. There is no voiceover commentary which can be interpreted as condoning or condemning the three men. The evidence is presented directly to the viewer and they are left to make up their own mind as to whether the two men were stupid or not. Of course, you could argue that it only shows one side of the story - the Simpson and Yates version. There are no dissenting voices; although criticism of them amongst the mountaineering community is referred to, this is not explicitly voiced. But then, this is a tale, not a trial. It is an uplifting story of the indomitable nature of the human spirit; an examination of how much people can endure when it boils down to a simple choice of fight on or die.
Visually, the film is one of stark contrasts. The talking head interviews are simple: filmed in an ordinary studio against a blue backdrop. This helps you focus on what is being said (and, more tellingly, the body language) without being distracted. The reconstructions, on the other hand (filmed on location in the Alps and the Andes) contain some shots of stunning scenery and also vividly capture the ferocity of the conditions in these areas, giving the viewer some idea of what Simpson and Yates actually experienced.
Just occasionally, Macdonald gets a little carried away. There are a few too many shots of mountains, or of time lapse photography showing clouds passing over mountain ranges. Beautiful though these may be, they sometimes clash with the tone of the film, breaking the tension and offering an unwelcome distraction from the main story. Similarly, towards the end, when Simpson, lost and dehydrated, is trying to work his way down the mountain Macdonald uses different techniques to try and visually demonstrate his increasing pain and disorientation. These never quite work and lack the raw power of Simpson's own commentary.
It's also true that, despite some sweeping vistas and grand scenery, Touching the Void is not really a cinematic release. It is, essentially, a documentary and, as such, probably sits more comfortably on the small screen.
Touching the Void is not an easy film to watch. There are times when on screen events will make you wince and even feel queasy. That is testament to the powerful sense tension which Macdonald gradually cranks up. It may also be too downbeat for some. Stick with it, though, because rather than being a depressing tale of man's pointless battle to tame nature, Touching the Void is a gripping tale of survival and is far better told and more personal than the similarly themed Alive.
Touching the Void
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Running time: approx. 106 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2010
This is an amazng documentary film about a true story that features two British climbers both in their twenties but with lots of experience and it is a harrowing story that is brilliantly told both using the two climbers in person and actors playing them as well. The scene where they return to the mountain is very touching and you canot help but admire their bravery.
Brendan Mackey ... Joe Simpson
Nicholas Aaron ... Simon Yates
Richard Hawking ... Himself
Joe Simpson ... Himself
Simon Yates ... Himself
Ollie Ryall ... Richard Hawking
The two climbers had managed to climb the Siula Grande in the Andes without incident on the ascent however on the descent disaster struck as Joe Simpson suffers a fall and breaks his leg, his friend and fellow climber Simon Yates is faced with a nigtmarish decision to risk his own life to save Simpson or to cut the line that attached the two of them.
This really is a spectacular story that unfolds in front of your eyes, the fact that the two climbers are there on camera and hence you know they survive is not the point after all this is one of those stories that makes you just sit back with your mouth open at times.
It is beautifully shot and I liked the balance of on camera interviews blended in with recreations of the experiences the two climbers had.
I have never totally understood what inspires people to climb mountains bu you can see the friendship and sense of togetherness that the two climbers shared and this is a wonderful bitof film making and is well worth seeing.
In 1985 two climbing friends, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates journeyed to Peru to climb Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. In bad weather the worst happens and the lives of the two climbers hands in the balance. A decision by Yates which has since been debated in the climbing community, left Simpson in a dire situation. The film follows Simpson's immense trek and struggle for survival. In a tense documentary style it is engaging, thrilling and extremely heart wrenching, with a few comic moments thrown in for good measure. It stays true to the book and is narrated by the climbers themselves which ensures accuracy and increases the viewer''s engagement with the film. Awesome scenery only adds to the visual impact of the film. A true story that is both interesting and engaging and would reach beyond the climbing community for its audience. Excellent film in each and every way.
Based on Joe Simpsons book (also called Touching the Void), this docu-drama film brings to life the near death experience of two climbers in Peru in 1985. Two twenty-something British climbers (Joe Simpson and Simon Yates) who had previously only climbed in the Alps, set out to conquer the 21,000 foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes by a route which nobody had ever successfully completed. Although in three days they succeeded in reaching the summit through gruelling conditions, disaster struck on the descent. An apparent underestimation of the difficulty of the climb meant they had already run out of food and water and were well behind schedule when Joe slipped and broke his leg sending his shin bone up through his knee and into his femur.
In conditions which made it very difficult to climb anyway, Simon began the unheard of feat of laboriously lowering Joe 300 feet at a time down the mountain. Unfortunately in the course of this rescue, Joe was lowered over the edge of a cliff leaving the men in an apparently impossible situation. Unable to retrieve the situation or communicate with each other, both men believe they may die stuck on the mountain until Simon remembers he has a penknife in his pocket and takes the painful decision to cut the rope in the hopes that at least he may save his own life.
Meanwhile, Richard Hawkins who is waiting at their base camp begins to worry. Having only met them a few days before, he realises he does not even know their surnames. Eventually he sets off towards the mountain in the hopes of meeting them coming down. He is horrified to meet an almost unrecognisable Simon struggling down the mountain dehydrated and frostbitten. Although they believe Joe to be dead they remain at base camp a little longer and are shocked one night when they are woken by Joes voice calling, Simon and find him in an horrific state but alive a few hundred yards from the camp.
Brendan Mackey as Joe Simpson,
Nicholas Aaron as Simon Yates.
DVD Special Features
Return To Siula Grande is a kind of fly on the wall documentary of when the three men were reunited at Siule Grande 17 years later for filming. Both climbers seemed to find it a difficult time returning to the place where it all happened.
What Happened Next is a kind of epilogue which ties up what happened after Joe got back to base camp which is where the film ended.
Trailer: I didnt watch this but I think its fairly self explanatory.
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Theme: Documentary (Survival)
Length: 106 minutes (plus special features of more than 30 minutes)
By splicing interviews with the three men which serve as narration with reconstructed shots some of which were actually shot where it really happened, this film tells the full story (including how Joe manages to drag himself out of a crevasse and down the mountain) in a harrowing and very realistic way. It is neither a Hollywood blockbuster based on a true story version nor a bland documentary which does not engage. The candour and honesty of the three men help you to feel like you are really seeing events as they actually happened. The horrific truth of it is almost too much to bear yet the fact that it is true makes you keep watching. It is amazing that either (never mind both) of them lived to tell the tale. It would make an impressive fiction film but the fact that it really happened and is recalled so honestly and matter of factly by those concerned adds an extra dimension to it.
Overall I would recommend this film to anyone old enough to see it. It is a shocking yet amazing and emotional tale. I had heard of the story before but when I was watching it I was in suspense throughout the whole film. I would recommend the DVD version as both the short features are worth seeing. Definitely worth buying.
In 1985 two young British lads, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, went to on a mountaineering trip to Peru, and attempted an ascent of the 21,000 foot high Sula Grande. No one had ever managed the route that they took, but they were young and fit, well-used to mountaineering, and full of enthusiasm and confidence. This movie is a dramatisation of the events of their trip, taken from Simpson’s best selling book, also called “Touching the Void”. Kevin Macdonald directs. His background is mainly making documentaries, one of which he won an Oscar for – 2000’s “One Day in September”, a documentary about the events at the 1972 Munich Olympics). “Touching the Void” is a combination of documentary film, with re-enactments. Very much like “999” on TV, but much more cinematographic, of course. Simpson is played by Brendan Mackey and Yates by Nicholas Aaron. Neither actors seem to have done a great deal of film work previously. The real Simpson and the real Yates appear with frequent commentaries throughout the movie, making the whole thing much more poignant. This means that, from the beginning, we are aware that the 2 mountaineers do actually survive so in that sense there isn’t a great deal of suspense about what will happen, but in any case, it’s such a famous story, many viewers will already know the outcome. (If you don’t know the story, and don’t want to know what happens – best stop reading NOW!) They reached the top of the mountain, but that wasn’t the end of it. The weather, which can change very quickly up there, took a turn for the worse, and both men were well aware that things – if they do go wrong – are far more likely
to go wrong on the descent than on the ascent. And boy did they go wrong… Simpson had an accident, badly breaking his leg. Yates began to get them both back, painstakingly and heroically using ropes to get Simpson down the mountain, bit by bit. Then another disaster struck, and with Simpson hanging over a sheer drop and his bodyweight threatening to take them both down, Yates was forced to cut the rope. That event was something that he took a lot of criticism for from the mountaineering community, and the story was famous internationally as well – most people with any interest in mountaineering will remember it clearly. And just as famously, Simpson himself managed a superhuman crawl back to the base camp, despite him having many very painful injuries. So, these events are already known to many who will be watching the movie, and even those who don’t know the story will guess much of it from the clips of the real Simpson and Yates, well before the end of it. The suspense is more in how the events unfold. I don’t usually like movies like this – I gave “Alive” and “Cliffhanger” a miss. But I found “Touching the void” was a surprisingly gripping, and affecting, movie to watch. Their feats of survival were truly heroic. Some would say they were foolhardy in the first place. But that’s another story. There are some visually great scenes, whether they were all filmed at the Sukla Grande or not, they manage to give the impression that that’s what we’re seeing. Lots of great blue skies as they reach the top, make you feel some inkling of what it must feel like to be up there. If I have any criticism at all it is merely that we don’t get to know the characters all that well – in a way, they could be any
two young men, and although we do get to know a lot of their inner thoughts, especially as they are coming terms with their respective isolated positions, I felt we could have been told more about them as people. What are they doing with themselves nowadays, for example? Do they still talk to one another? Overall, recommended – but make sure you’re wrapped up warm! 106 minutes long. Video available in April 2004, price = £10.39 on amazon.co.uk