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Long Way Round

In an era where any given day the television listings will offer 12 different reality shows about unpleasant people doing idiotic things for selfish reasons, it's easy to forget the joys of the old-school adventure documentary — the sort where reasonably prepared and intelligent folks go to exotic locales and have interesting experiences that we can enjoy vicariously. Like Long Way Round (2004), which followed actor Ewan McGregor and his pal Charley Boorman on their utterly insane attempt to take a 20,000 mile motorcycle trip from London to New York City. Both actors, the two have been friends since meeting on the set of 1997's The Serpent's Kiss, sharing an avid love of motorcycles. Having participated in a handful of travelogues already — he's braved the Arctic for a nature show about polar bears and spent ten days in the Honduran jungle for BBC's "Trips Money Can't Buy — McGregor knew that there was sponsorship to be found should a movie star and his buddy want to head out on a dangerous and potentially embarrassing international bike trek. Which is part of the fun of Long Way Round, really. The first two episodes of the show deal with the planning and execution of the trip, with Ewan and Charley meeting with representatives from motorcycle manufacturers and insurance agencies, plotting out the trip on maps with experts on the various areas they plan to drive through, learning languages, and acquiring gear. At every turn, people tell them that they're out of the minds — the route they plan will take them through the Ukraine, China, and Alaska, and if they fall behind schedule they could get trapped by winter weather. Insurance agents refuse to cover them, their cameraman fails his test to get his motorcycle operator's license mere hours before they're set to leave, and it turns out that much of Kazakhstan has never been mapped. Once they finally get on the road, it quickly becomes apparent that they had no idea how difficult the trip would actually be as they get stuck in mud, try to find replacement parts in a tiny Mongolian village, suffer serious injuries, and face mind-numbing exhaustion during the 115-day journey. And yet the two experience great joy in their adventure, meeting quirky locals (including a Russian maybe-mobster who puts them up for the night), eating bizarre local delicacies, and visiting some truly beautiful, rarely seen locales while ribbing each other like the old pals they are. It's a charming road adventure, and one of the most entertaining reality-based television projects in recent years.

Goldhil Entertainment's DVD release of Long Way Round is nice, a two-disc package that features all seven episodes in their original full-screen format (1.33:1). There's not a lot to say about the video — the original footage was shot by guys on motorcycles and, while some the scenery is stunning, it's not designed as carefully prepared cinematography. The DD 5.1 audio is fine, although like the picture, the sound is nothing spectacular. There are a number of so-so extras which make it clear that all the best material really did make it into the miniseries — in fact, many of the bonus features use footage that made its way into the broadcast version, making it doubly pointless: "Trip Preparation" (7 min.), "First Five Days" (17 min.), "I Just Can't Do It" (3 min.) (McGregor near tears, an especially dumb extra), "Glacier Plane Ride" (4 min.), "Wrong Way Round" (6 min.), and "Post Trip Interview" (5 min.). There's also information on UNICEF, the charity that Boorman and McGregor hooked up with for the tour, and a photo gallery. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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