In 2005, German brothers Thomas and Alexander Huber set out to break a mountain-climbing record at "El Capitan", a massive 3,000-foot rock wall in Yosemite National Park. Though skilled climbers could typically reach the top in two or three days, the world record stood at just under three hours. The Hubers, highly regarded for their accomplishments in the sport, were looking to shave off nearly 30 minutes from the record-breaking time. Armed with a sharp sense of teamwork, their climbing gear, director Pepe Danquart and a small crew, the result is To The Limit (Am Limit, 2007) a documentary about their successes, failures and overall perspectives on life. A few colorful characters are met along the way, but for the most part, this dangerous task is presented in a surprisingly minimalist fashion.
Not surprisingly, the climbing footage here is first-rate. From the scaling of "El Capitan" itself to South America's Patagonia region, these high-altitude exploits are captured with precision and a real artistic flair. The Huber brothers appear to be in top physical condition, a necessity when dealing with a sport this demanding and dangerous. Physical ability is just the tip of the iceberg, though: Alexander and Thomas are obviously talented climbers, but their enthusiasm---mixed with a natural sibling rivalry that only blood brothers can truly appreciate---creates an interesting dynamic that helps both athletes to work even harder. This element makes for quite an entertaining experience during several stretches of To The Limit, though the film takes a few unlikely (and in some cases, unwelcome) turns along the way.
Hinted at during an overly dramatic "nightmare" sequence early on, it soon becomes obvious that their task at hand won't be accomplished without some measure of disaster. After Alexander takes a nasty tumble and injures his legs during a trial run, the brothers decide to wait until the next year to try "El Capitan" again---and it's here, during the film's second act, that To The Limit changes gears sharply. We're now presented with a more introspective look at the brothers, especially in regards to their more deep-seeded rivalry during tough times. In fact, it's not until the last 10 minutes of this 96-minute film that Thomas and Alexander officially attempt their record-setting run. If To The Limit is approached like a typical sports documentary, most will lose patience long before then. Ultimately, this film is best regarded as an interesting experiment: the Hubert brothers' story is engaging enough on its own terms, but the final cut of To The Limit is not without a few glaring missteps. Combine this with an overly talky format---not to mention one that's completely free of traditional narration---and you've got quite a polarizing experience.
Presented on DVD by First Run Features, To The Limit doesn't arrive with much fanfare in its Region 1 debut. This decidedly unconventional sports documentary is paired with a somewhat uneven technical presentation, while the slim bonus features don't enhance the overall experience a great deal. All things considered, this isn't a bad package...but is it worth owning?
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16:9 displays, the bulk of To The Limit looks quite good. Given the nature of this high-altitude documentary, image detail and overall clarity are excellent, while only a few hints of interlacing keep it from scoring higher. The film's natural color palette doesn't exactly leap off the screen, but overall video quality is slightly higher than most lower-budget documentaries.
The audio is presented in a Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix that doesn't quite measure up to the visuals. This being a surprisingly dialogue-driven film, only the climbing sequences and soundtrack push the dynamics to higher-than-normal levels. While a full-blown 5.1 mix might've heightened the overall atmosphere, this lack of sonic flair isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. Closed Captions haven't been included, though all of the German dialogue is paired with burnt-in English subs.
A surprisingly low-key but mildly interesting sports documentary, To The Limit features a pair of devoted athletes and plenty of high-altitude scenery. The film's relatively flat, dialogue-driven format keeps it from reaching greater heights within the genre's boundaries, though most casual fans of climbing and other "extreme sports" should find something to enjoy here. First Run Features' DVD package doesn't exactly shine, pairing an uneven technical presentation with only a handful of minor bonus features. Due to the film's unconventional approach, high price tag and limited replay value, most interested parties should try before they buy. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.