It's difficult to make a movie about a blind man who climbs to the top of Mount Everest and not strike some inspirational chords. To its credit, Touch the Top of the World does a solid, if unremarkable, job paying tribute to the jaw-dropping achievement of Erik Weihenmayer, who made it to the top of the monster in May of 2001.
There isn't much more to say about this 2006 made-for-television film beyond "solid." Peter Silverman's script follows the well-traveled formula of TV biopic, but familiarity, in this case, breeds blandness more than it does contempt. Touch the Top of the World doesn't quite resonate like you would hope, but it doesn't embarrass itself, either. And in the meantime, a real-life story of triumph receives the spotlight it's due.
In the opening minutes, Erik (Peter Facinelli) outlines in a voiceover the magnitude of his feat. For an experienced mountain climber, scaling the 29,035-foot Everest is amazing enough; for a blind person, it is nearly impossible. Only one in six people who reach the top even make it back down alive.
Director Peter Winther frames the film in the climb up Everest itself, with generous flashbacks showing us what has brought Erik to this moment. We meet him as a child, diagnosed with retinoschisis, a rare eye disorder that leads to blindness by the time he is a teenager. We meet his supportive parents (Kate Greenhouse and Bruce Campbell - yes, that Bruce Campbell), follow his athleticism in high school, his beginnings as a schoolteacher and his romance with a fellow teacher, Ellie (Sarah Manninen).
Anchoring the movie is a winning, low-key performance by Facinelli, whose most recent onscreen appearance was as the papa vampire in Twilight. Facinelli is warm, likable and admirably restrained as Erik. Don't expect overwrought theatrics or sundry scenery-chewing in what easily could have been waterworks-filled melodrama.
Not that some melodrama wouldn't have been welcome. Touch the Top of the World is so intent on demonstrating Erik Weihenmayer's refusal to acknowledge his disability, it winds up not really hitting home just how remarkable his mountain-climbing is. The movie doesn't even spend much time delving into why Erik is drawn to the activity.
The scenes that ultimately stay with the viewer, not surprisingly, are those small ones that embrace emotional resonance, particularly one lovely bit in which Erik feels his mother's face to discover his physical resemblance to her. More of that would have been nice, but Touch the Top of the World still has its charms.
Touch the Top of the World is presented in widescreen 1.78:1 and enhanced for 16x9 television screens. The picture is serviceable, but there is a disappointing softness to many of the images, as well as some minor grain in a number of scenes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is modest, but it gets the job done with no discernible issues such as distortion or dropout. Optional subtitles are in English and French.
Just a couple of previews. Some clips of the real Erik Weihenmayer would have been nice, but you'll have to search YouTube for those (including the notorious and hilarious TV news clip in which an anchor flubs an upcoming interview with the man).
It is well-crafted and strikes some right chords, but Touch the Top of the World isn''t nearly as ambitious or gutsy as its undeniably compelling subject.