Race to the Summit (2023) Movie Review – Death-defying speed-runs to glory

Death-defying speed-runs to glory

With over 8 billion people on the planet, and many dreaming of conquering big goals or chasing dreams, there will inevitably be some that share the exact same aspirations as us. Whether it be free-diving down to the depths of the ocean or breaking the elusive 2 hour mark in the marathon, sport is the perfect avenue for seeing these records made and then smashed by competing athletes.

When it comes to solo free-climbing, there is perhaps no more extreme and dangerous sport than this. Climbing without ropes up some of the most perilous mountains is one thing, but doing so while trying to set speed records is a whole ‘nother ball game.

At the center of this madness sit two very different athletes, Ueli Steck and Dani Arnold. Ueli was the first to set records across the Swiss Alps’ great north faces and that subsequently catapulted him into the limelight. A big star and with talks across the world, Ueli’s achievements captivated a whole community… including climber Dani Arnold.

Dani Arnold’s inspiration leads him to chase Ueli’s achievements and smash speed records, all whilst personifying that underdog spirit. As the documentary continues, big questions are raised against the danger and nature of competition, with many aptly commenting that “one wrong move can result in death”.

The format of the documentary works surprisingly well though as it flits back and forth between Ueli and Dani on their journeys. After Ueli’s success, we move over to see Dani’s journey to the big-time. Then we cut back to Ueli again and so on and so forth. You can see the manufactured attempt to paint these two as bitter rivals from the media, when in reality both Dani and Ueli are suckered into answering questions designed to stir the pot.

There’s no question that these two are very different individuals though and seeing their differing ways of climbing the mountains, and how that ties into their philosophies in life is partly what makes this such a fascinating watch.

The camera work is excellent throughout, and with a combination of helicopter shots, drone footage and point of view cameras, this documentary gets us up close and stomach-churningly close to the edge for many of these peaks. It really is staggering to see how massive these mountains are and as someone has seen some of these up close, scale just does not do these behemoths justice.

Race to the Summit is an excellent film, one that’s both gripping and well written throughout. The narrative is delivered well and there’s even some thought provoking questions raised regarding the nature of competition and what that means for mountain climbing. This is another worthy sport doc on Netflix and well worth a watch.

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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