Fred Schruers
December 15, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Behind ”Vertical Limit”

A mountain climber dangles perilously over the edge of a frozen cliff. After his partner tosses him a literal lifeline, the ice shelf snaps and both find themselves hanging from a loosening ice axe. With what he calls Vertical Limit‘s ”slippery slope” sequence, director Martin Campbell has crafted a nail-biter all the more visceral because it feels so real. The New Zealand-born filmmaker (The Mask of Zorro, Goldeneye) went to great lengths — and heights — to simulate Himalayan peaks for this story of a climber (Chris O’Donnell) lured out of retirement to save his sister (Robin Tunney), who’s trapped inside K2.

Campbell shot most of the outdoor footage on and around New Zealand’s Mount Cook, but he says, ”to find a serac (ice shelf) like this you’d probably have to go up eight or nine thousand feet.” Mindful of his cast and crew’s safety and Columbia Pictures’ millions (he says the budget ended up ”around the 90-ish mark”), he had a soundstage erected in Queenstown, where they shot the sequence for two weeks. This brief respite from nature’s rigors was a key component of an exhausting yet exhilarating shoot. ”Having done this film,” Campbell says, ”I now would not flinch at anything.”

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