About The Locations
With a distinguished cast and talented director in place, Vertical Limit began principal photography on location in New Zealand in the mountain regions of Mt. Cook and Queenstown.
After considering Canada and Europe, Campbell says, "We came to Mt. Cook in the Southern Alps in New Zealand simply because it duplicates the Himalayas. It's one of the few places in the world where you get peak upon peak like the area around K2. It suited our purposes perfectly."
World-renowned climber Ed Viesturs agrees. "The terrain in the Mt. Cook area is very similar to the Himalayas. The glaciers are as big, the crevasses are as deep, the terrain is as steep, the weather is as bad and the scenery is as beautiful. So it was a very good location to shoot a
film like this."
Mt. Cook also provided locations that effectively maintained the illusion that the drama was unfolding at 26,000 feet. "In the Mt. Cook region, we found locations which have a precarious, high-altitude look," says Phillips. "Nazomi Ridge, where we filmed for two days, is a little spindle of rock with a two to three thousand foot drop all around."
Though visually spectacular, the terrain was hazardous. "We sent our mountain rigging and safety crew up to prepare the location," says Phillips. "We took a camera crane up by helicopter and laid tracks for it on the mountain. We flew our actors up, and we got fantastic work.
"It was precarious, and it was scary, but it paid off because the shots put our actors and our story firmly in an alpine location," Phillips continues. "No amount of computer- generated visual effects can ever capture the same feeling of actually being up on a mountain in such a precarious position. Our actors are being seen in situations that we believe will be the best climbing action sequences ever filmed."
Director of photography David Tattersall says in order to make the audience believe they are up on the mountain themselves, it was necessary to break out of the two- dimensional realm. He kept the camera moving all the time. "The main thing we wanted to put across was the vertigo. As soon as the camera moves, the audience becomes aware of the third dimension, the depth. You feel like you are there."
The departure point for the visual style of the film was a hand-held, wide-angle, gritty realism, which evolved into a smoother, more operatic style as Tattersall was increasingly able to use crane and tracks on the high-altitude locations. "Most of it has been shot with a 27mm lens or wider, and we've gone for a deep-focus, crisp, unfiltered look— no soft filters or low-contrast filters. It's a high-contrast,
unglamourized, unsentimental look."
A mountain range named The Remarkables, near the resort town of Queenstown in New Zealand, was chosen to represent the K2 base camp. Built on the upper reaches of the Remarkables Ski Field, the set gave off a feeling of being the last outpost of civilization before the isolated splendor of the route to the summit.
The base camp set was a large cluster of alpine tents of various colors, shapes and sizes, designed by production designer Jon Bunker. Each tent reflected the nature of its inhabitants, including the outrageous Bench brothers with their Bob Marley flags and nude sunbathing antics.
The base camp of wealthy entrepreneur Elliot Vaughn, played by Bill Paxton, was much more elaborate. It consisted of several large, interconnected, dome-shaped tents fully equipped with every possible
luxury. Real climbers on the crew said that if there was such a thing on K2, no one would ever leave it to go for the summit.
Base camp was a truly cosmopolitan world, with climbing teams and support crews made up of males and females from Italy, Spain, Japan, India, Russia and New Zealand, plus Pakistani porters and cooks and, of course,
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