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Touch the Top of the World (2006)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/17/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/26/2009

In my recent review for How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, I wrote that I don't really follow the careers of actors. Well, that's not exactly true. While I'm typically more interested in the content and the makers of a movie, there are a handful of actors that I'll watch in just about anything. One of those actors is Bruce Campbell. As with most fans, I first saw Campbell in The Evil Dead, and would subsequently see in other films that he did with Sam Raimi. As he branched out into other roles, I would check them out, as Campbell always brings a snide, cocky attitude to his roles. I normally wouldn't go near a drama like Touch the Top of the World, but when I saw Campbell's name in the credits, I couldn't say no.

Peter Facinelli stars in Touch the Top of the World, as Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Mount Everest. As the film opens, Erik is already on his trek up Everest with his guide, PV (Shaun Johnston). The story then turns to flashbacks and we see how Erik reached this point. Born sighted, he lost his sight as a teenager. Despite this, his parents, Ed (Bruce Campbell) and Ellen (Kate Greenhouse), were very supportive of Erik and tried to normalize his life as much as possible. An athletic young man, Erik became a wrestler in high school and also developed a passion for rock climbing. He get a job as a teacher, and it was at work that he met Ellie (Sarah Manninen), whom he began to date. As Erik got more involved with climbing, he gained a reputation for it, and was hired to be an instructor. He then met PV, who arranged for Erik to travel the world, challenging higher mountains. When the opportunity to attack Everest was presented, Erik couldn't refuse. So, aided by his father and his friends, Erik began to climb the tallest mountain in the world.

As with recent documdramas Changeling and The Express, one really can't criticize the story in Touch the Top of the World. Erik Weihenmayer's story is a truly inspiring one and the emotional content of this movie is undeniable. Yes, we've seen films before where characters had to overcome physical challenges, but this is a fairly unique one, as Erik made the choice to undertake an exercise which most people couldn't endure and many have died trying. But, the story isn't just about the mountain climbing. Here we see a man who didn't let his inability to see stop him from doing anything. (This is illustrated in a scene where he still has some vision and he's doing stunts on a bicycle!) From getting a job to pursuing a woman, Erik tried to live everyday to the fullest.

And while Touch the Top of the World does a good job of presenting this part of the story, the movie does suffer from some setbacks. This is, after all, a low-budget made-for-TV movie and some things had to be sacrificed for the movie. For starters, the story of Erik's life (up until he climbed Everest) is very condensed to satisfy the 89-minute running time. During the flashbacks, we quickly see Erik go from childhood to his teenaged years to adulthood. The movie keeps an upbeat spirit by hitting the high notes. Save for the day that he went blind and one severe personal tragedy (which leads to a very touching moment at the end), the movie doesn't show us any hardships from Erik's life. Didn't he struggle? Didn't he every feel defeated? If so, we never see it here. And, the movie is sort of vague on why he loves mountain climbing so much. On the plus side, the movie substitutes Canada for Tibet and most will never know the difference.

Those issues aside, Touch the Top of the World is still a solid made-for-TV based on actual events movie. Facinelli puts his pretty-boy persona aside and does a fine job of Erik. Is he convincing as a blind person? That's hard to say, but he does bring warmth and humor to the role. I'm disappointed to say that Bruce Campbell isn't in the film for very long, but it's always a treat to see him tackle serious roles. You know that it's hard for him to hold back the "Give me some sugar, baby!" lines. (And it should be noted that Evil Dead composer Joseph Loduca did the music for the film.)

Touch the Top of the World reaches the summit of DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. At least half of the movie takes places on the snow-covered landscape of Everest and these scenes, with their white backdrops, don't show any distracting grain. The colors look fine and the image is never overly dark or bright. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For the most part, the sound is maintained by the front and center channels. There are some occasional stereo effects and, when on the mountain, some modest surround effects. I didn't note any distinct subwoofer effects. Still, this is what one would expect from a film of this caliber.

There are no extras on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long