Immersion as a capitalistic strategy Kevin Macdonald made Touching the Void in the middle of his career, when he had only made documentaries up to that point. The dramatic elements of the film foreshadowed his two following Hollywood productions The Last King of Scotland and State of Play. MacDonald has continued to alternate documentary and fiction film productions since then, most notably Life in a Day, which was composed solely of video clips from Youtube. The link between Life in a Day and Touching the Void is the manner in which MacDonald tries to immerse the audience to grab and hold of their attention. Admittedly, the method of the first is more experimental and connected to the recent trend of participative documentary. Although the providers of the clips had no influence on any aspect of the production process, so it is more correct to indicate Life in a Day as a semi-participatory documentary.
In contrast, Touching the Void utilizes the claim of reality inherent to documentary film to entice the viewer into watching it. That is to say, the techniques MacDonald employs to immerse the audience in the story are based on capitalistic motivations and profitable tactics. The inherent disposition towards a realistic portrayal of events is therefore not an end but a means to acquire greater audience interest. MacDonald's film applies the same scheme as popular television drama-documentary programs on channels such as National Geographic and Discovery channel. The most apt comparison is Locked up Abroad, a program that conveys the misfortunes of the subjects several decades after the facts. Even more, both embellish the reconstruction of the events over the actual narration through interview of the characters; the reconstruction becomes the most important part, people want to see what happened, not hear about it.
Consequently, all MacDonald needed for his drama-documentary was a good story he could dramatize even further. He found his story in the novel Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, who also appears in the film next to the other two persons involved in the accident, Simon Yates and Richard Hawking. The film appropriates their verbal recollections as a starting point for the reconstructions of the climbing accident in the Andes. MacDonald exploits the fact that the events portrayed are based on real events, it adds to the drama of the narrative of his documentary. He follows up on this dramatization with techniques that originate from the narrative film tradition.
To start with, as Richard Falcon has mentioned: "no fiction writer would dare to invent so implausible a story" (2004). The narrative of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates is too unbelievable in a fiction setting, Hollywood had plans to adapt Joe Simpson's novel into a production starring Tom Cruise but they realized that Touching the Void can only function as a drama-documentary . The interviews need to keep reminding the viewer throughout the duration of the film that the narrative is indeed based on actual incidents. It is this need for plausibility, whereby the entire plot is revealed as the viewer is aware of Joe Simpsons survival at the start of Touching the Void, that forces MacDonald to dramatize the reconstructions in order to make a lucrative documentary.
Specifically, theatrical music accompanies all but a few scenes throughout the film, ranging from sad and depressing -to emphasize the torturous position of Joe Simpson, to religious music during his triumphs. In addition, MacDonald also employs various dramatic sound effects to amplify the impact of certain accidents. These audio queues contained in Touching the Void contribute to the sense of 'being there', or how film critic Bruce Feld put it: "His work is so seamless that it is difficult to keep in mind that the actual event occurred in 1985, 18 years ago, and that we are not actually watching the harrowing climb itself." (2004)
Thirdly, the reconstructions of the events rely on cinematic schemata to appear realistic. MacDonald abides by the rules of the continuity montage to avoid jarring the viewer and subsequently obstructing his or her immersion. However, Touching the Void has an advantage due to the warped perception of the Western audience regarding mountaineering. They overvalue the realism because it strongly contrasts with unrealistic fiction films such as Renny Harling's Cliffhanger (1993) or Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction (1975).
Additionally, actors play Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in the reconstructions in order to inhibit the discrepancy between their current and former selves in terms of age and image. MacDonald achieves two goals by casting these actors, it increases the immersive capability of the reconstructions and it takes full advantage of the dramatic nature of the narrative (Ward, 2008). In the words of Stella Bruzzi: "the role of the performance is, paradoxically, to draw the audience into the reality of the situation being dramatized, to authenticate the fictionalization." (2008)
To conclude, Touching the Void started out as a potential Hollywood production, yet the unbelievable narrative could not function in a fictional setting. Nevertheless, MacDonald made his drama-documentary adaptation of the book with the same capitalistic motivation. Given that he could not rely on the star power of Tom Cruise, MacDonald had to dramatize the story and heighten the immersive nature of the reconstructions, leading to a film that was as much a thriller as it was a documentary. Touching the Void was successful owing to this combination of educational and entertainment value. The film made close to 14 million dollars at global box offices and passed the preliminary round for the Oscar for Best Documentary (Box Office Mojo, 2004). In conclusion, MacDonald has shown with his documentary that to appease the audience and film critics, realism is less important than the dramatic and immersive nature of the narrative.