The Summit of the Gods (Review)

Film poster - The Summit of the Gods. A climber stands atop a tall snowy mountain looking out over the range below

I just finished watching the French animated film The Summit of the Gods (Le Sommet des Dieux). It’s a masterful adaptation of the original Japanese manga, and a great fusion of both nation’s art.

The story follows an investigator looking into the history of some of the first Mt. Everest expeditions, and the modern day mountaineers he encounters along the way. The film manages to balance the investigative drive against the human desire to push your limits, culminating in a stressful climb to the summit at the end.

The animation in this film is amazing. It is fluid and each step, each swing of a pick feels like it has weight to it. The story does not shy away from the danger and perils of mountain climbing, and the animation really helps to sell this. The scenes where the characters are in a state of peril, and there are many throughout the film, are made much more real by the animation. I often find it easier to suspend my disbelief with animation, and that showed here. Live action climbing sequences like those in action films often leave me unfazed, but this film’s animation managed to gave me a sense of vertigo. And I was not expecting how powerful the later scenes visualising altitude sickness would be.

The accompanying soundtrack and sound design is beautiful and at times kind of haunting. The film’s background visuals mix many brighter scenes with more muted and yet still intense scenes towards the climax, and the diversity of landscapes the film captures is impressive. There are so many scenes that, taken as stills, would make wonderful paintings all by themselves.

I have not read the original manga, only having watched the film, but I think it would be difficult to go back and read it now. I cannot imagine a way for the book to beat out the film in its portrayal of the climb.

I would highly recommend this film to any fans of animation. For viewers who are less interested in animation, but who like films with survival drama, I think this would be a very good first taste of a “serious” animated film.


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