Most documentaries about the intersection of the natural world (the jungle; the sea) and man's attempts to prove himself against that world become philosophical musings on humanity, spirituality, and the possibility of some sort of divine being or design. K2, directed by Dave Ohlson, is no different, but its considered use of ice and snow-covered vistas against the expanse of blue sky offers great beauty while capturing something of what pulls the adventurous to try to reach the world's second highest peak. The cameras follow legendary alpinist Fabrizio Zangrilli as he leads a 2009 expedition attempting to scale K2. (His squad includes such celebrated climbers as Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, first woman to climb all 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters without supplemental oxygen, and Jake Meyer, record holder for youngest person to climb the Seven Summits.) It's a trek as thrilling as any Hollywood summer blockbuster, with real-life plot twists of death, unexpected heroism, and surprise endings.
The climb took place on the 100-year anniversary of the Italian Duke of Abruzzi's landmark expedition of the mountain, and the film is intercut with old footage and photos of that adventure, narrated with passages from the duke's writings. For nature geeks and climbing enthusiasts, this is a must-see. But even viewers not naturally drawn to the subject matter may well be pulled under the film's sway, as it evokes something of what movie fans must have felt decades ago watching newsreels of great explorers take on the great unknowns of nature.