Rating: UR (Unrated)
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 2012
Directed by: Michael Brown
Stars: 2 out of 5
Don Hahn, the man who produced the award winning films “The Lion King,” Beauty and the Beast,” and the documentary “Chimpanzee,” has done it again. This time, he has produced a documentary about war veterans who decide to climb one of the tallest peaks of the Himalayan mountain ranges. The documentary, titled “High Ground,” is directed by Mike Brown.
The documentary is set ten years after Erik Weihenmayer ascended Mt. Everest. Weihenmayer is the enterprising adventurer who made history by making it to the top of the mountain despite his blindness. This time, the climbing team that assisted him is back to help eleven veterans heal their emotional and physical wounds by climbing the mountain.
The battle-hardened warriors are also helped by a support organization for veterans, World T.E.A.M. Sports. These veterans served in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they have been drawn from the four branches of the U.S. military. Their target is the Lobuche East Peak in Nepal, a peak that soars to heights of 20,075 feet. The soldiers call themselves “Soldiers to the Summit.”
The mountain climbers start by trekking the Khumbu Valley in Nepal for several days. The climbing proper starts from the rocky Lobuche High Camp through the ice and snow in the last 2,000 feet. It is not an easy climb, however, and some of the team members begin to doubt they can make the summit.
Brown has a wealth of experience of capturing events at high altitudes, and he does a remarkable job of capturing the veterans’ struggle with their experiences up the Himalayas. Some of the difficulties the soldiers have while going up the mountain have to do with their physical disabilities, while others are connected to the emotional and traumatic experiences that have followed them from the war. For example, three of them use prosthetic legs and one lost his eyesight in the war.
This is therapy through ascent at its best, and the climb is also used to parallel the hardships of facing up to unseen challenges in life. To succeed in reaching their target peak, they must learn to prepare themselves for the unseen and the unknown.
Each of the eleven veterans has a personal story to tell. Steven Baskis was blinded during an attack on his armored vehicle, and he dedicates his climbing mission to one of his fallen comrades. It almost seems as if the soldiers with emotional wounds are more affected and challenged by the climb than those with physical injuries. This is a surprising situation that many people would not expect, and it makes for intriguing viewing. The heartbreaking stories of the soldiers’ struggles are just as intriguing as the climb itself. The stories are a revelation of the effect war has on people, and how the effects remain in soldiers’ hearts and minds.
Apart from the veterans’ stories, the mountainous scenery is also interesting. The Himalayan mountain ranges are breathtaking, but even this beautiful scenery is not enough to heal the veterans. In fact, the team members themselves know that the climb itself is not enough to heal their emotional problems, let alone the physical ones. They are very candid about this, just as they are open about their horrendous war time experiences.
Right from the beginning of the film, viewers are given a taste of what is to come. This is achieved by using the opening interview montage to show brief glimpses of the veterans’ inner turmoil. One of the best things about this movie is that each of the eleven climbers was given adequate screen time. Perhaps this was made possible by the lengthy footage the editors had to work with. It has been reported they had at least 75 hours of footage that they had to whittle down to approximately one and a half hours.
This team is comprised of both men and women, which clearly shows that the horrors of war do not respect any sex. Ashley Crandall of the Army National Guard suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Her world crumbles after she reveals her stories to the public, stories that her listeners find unbelievable.
The documentary’s pictures are breathtaking, but the accompanying music is just as good. The music was composed by Chris Bacon, the man responsible for coming up with compositions for such wonderful films such as “Source Code.” The music is used to mirror the physical journey. It starts out conventionally enough before transitioning to more exotic sounds that are in tune with the surroundings. The composition has an emotional impact on the movie, which just goes on to show that “High Ground” is an all round success.
Watch the trailer here!