Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|The Michael Palin Collection |
New Europe / Around the World in 80 Days / Sahara / Hemingway Adventure / Great Railway Journeys / Himalaya / Pole to Pole / Full Circle
Genres: Special Interests, Television, Documentary
Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 10/07/2008 Rating: Nr
Armchair Travel at its Best
H. Nelson | 04/18/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Michael Palin Collection" compiles together all of the travel series Palin has made over the past 20+ years. Previously best known as part of the Monty Python comedy troupe, Palin brings an easy wit and disarming everyman style to the programs, as he journeys through some of the most remarkable places on earth. What's particularly notable is how decidedly apolitical Palin's approach is; he simply meets ordinary people, most of whom do not seem to see him as any sort of celebrity, and has as many experiences as he can.
The series sets are identical to the versions available separately, and can be somewhat divided into two types, with the earlier series being more focused on the process of getting from one place to another, and later series being somewhat more traditional travel documentaries as Palin explores a particular region. There are eight series in all:
"Around the World in Eighty Days" 7 episodes on 3 discs
This is the series that started it all (though not the earliest program in the collection), and the standard by which all subsequent series are measured. Palin sets out to approximate the famous journey in Jules Verne's novel, keeping strictly to surface transportation. Unfortunately, the timetable overwhelms the locations, and thus he rarely has time to even see where he is before making the next urgent connection. This is particularly notable near the end; the United States seems given a particularly perfunctory examination, crammed into the last episode with two ocean voyages and the last miles traveled to London. A highlight of the series is a slow journey across the Bay of Bengal on an ancient vessel called a dhow; many people consider it the best sequence in any of the series.
WARNING: At one point Palin visits a restaurant that specializes in snake meat, and during the sequence, a snake is skinned alive on camera. Even non-animal-lovers will likely find the scene disturbing.
The only bonus feature is a years-later interview with Palin, who offers anecdotes and insights about the journey and the production of the series.
"Pole to Pole" 8 episodes on 3 discs
While not necessarily the most ambitious journey ("Full Circle" beats it for sheer scale), this is almost certainly the most arduous, as Palin journeys from the North Pole to the South Pole along the 30th parallel (with a couple of unavoidable divergences). In addition to reaching the two lethally inhospitable Poles, Palin travels through western Russia literally days before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and down eastern Africa through countries where just getting anywhere seems almost impossible. Despite - or perhaps because of - these obstacles, "Pole to Pole" is arguably the best of all the series, balancing a chronicle of the journey with an experience of the locations often lacking in "Around the World." Highlights are many, but one standout is the journey through Sudan aboard the Nile Valley Express, during which Palin even rides on the roof of the train as it lumbers through the desert.
As with "Around the World in Eighty Days," the only bonus feature is an interview with Palin.
"Full Circle" 10 episodes on 3 discs
On his most epic journey, Palin travels around the circumference of the Pacific Rim, a trip that takes him a full year. The series indicates the beginning of a shift away from focusing on the journey, as was required in "Around the World" and (somewhat) artificially recreated in "Pole to Pole," and more toward appreciating the diverse places visited. While more of a focus on the destination is welcome, the reduction of footage of the various rail, ship and other surface transportation modes results in a series that feels somewhat disjointed, and some regions are bypassed entirely. This includes, unfortunately, much of the western United States, which is shortchanged again; it may be that the US was considered too familiar to the audience to merit more than cursory attention. In any case, many sequences are striking. A highlight is the time spent in Eastern Russia, where Palin pays a haunting visit to the ruins of a Soviet gulag accompanied by one of the former prisoners, as well as a visit to the spectacular geothermal basin in the Kronotsky Reserve, a place that has never been visited by more than a handful of people.
Bonus features include an interview similar to those on the previous sets, and a series of deleted scenes, few of which could be considered a great loss from the broadcast episodes.
"Hemingway Adventure" / "Great Railway Journeys" 6 episodes/programs on 2 discs
This set consists of two completely different series, both quite different from all the others.
"Hemingway Adventure," the next series created after Full Circle, and the first filmed in high definition, or at least widescreen, does not chronicle Palin's journeys from one location to another. Rather, he visits many of the locations around the world that were significant in the life of the author Ernest Hemingway. Beyond this thematic element, no attempt is made to give coherence to the different locations, not even biographical - for instance, Palin doesn't visit Hemingway's boyhood home until the second episode. The result, while presenting a number of very interesting places, including Cuba and Uganda, seems almost random, and is probably the weakest of all the series, though it probably has more value to serious Hemingway fans. There are no bonus features.
The two programs on disc 2 are episodes of the series "Great Railway Journeys" featuring Palin. The first "Confessions of a Trainspotter," dates back to 1980, a full decade prior to "Around the World," and follows Palin as he journeys from the south of England to the far north of Scotland via a series of different rail lines. While lacking the style and narrative flow of his later series, the episode is still interesting, appealing particularly to the train buffs who would make up a large part of the series audience. The other episode, "Kerry to Derry," filmed between "Pole to Pole" and "Full Circle," follows Palin around Ireland as he attempts to track his great grandmother's emigration to the United States. This seems a thin thread to hang the episode on, and doesn't ever amount to much, but still the program has its rewards, including quite of bit of time spent in Northern Ireland examining the conditions of the Troubles. Again, there are no bonus features, making this disc's content particularly light.
"Sahara" 4 episodes on 2 discs
This series is a return to the single-journey format of the first three series, but from now on the emphasis is much less on the journey than on the destination. Palin travels around the Sahara Desert, which he points out is quite close to Europe yet almost entirely unknown to most Europeans. He pays particular attention to meeting people, and the region emerges as far more colorful than one might expect. The unstable political conditions in areas such as Western Sahara are not ignored, but, as always, Palin simply observes rather than making any sort of explicit statement. Highlights include a magnificent mud-built mosque in Djenne, and a journey across a particularly unforgiving stretch of desert with a camel caravan; this sequence is the closest any series has come to recreating the feel of the dhow sequence in "Around the World," though a couple of incongruous interruptions diminish the effect. Unfortunately, the series as a whole lacks the sense of cohesion of that earlier series, as Palin's path around the Sahara seems almost random at times.
Bonus features include the usual informative post-series interview, a number of interesting deleted sequences, and a series of brief clips called "video diaries," that offer Palin's on the spot comments about some of the experiences he's having.
"Himalaya" 6 episodes on 3 discs
It's fair to say this is the most visually spectacular series, as Palin visits a range of locales throughout the vast mountainous region; the cinematography, which is exceptional in all the series, is nothing short of breathtaking as shot after shot of impossibly beautiful natural features merge with footage of truly glorious architectural wonders. Similarly, much has been said about the musical soundtrack, a remarkable blending of traditional motifs and contemporary Western arrangements that somehow always works. In many ways this feels to be the most perilous journey, as Palin deals with hostile climate, where altitude sickness can be fatal, and equally hostile political conditions, such as the contentious relations between Pakistan and India, insurgent groups in Nepal, and the simmering Chinese occupation of Tibet. On that subject, Palin has an intriguing interview with the exiled Dalai Lama, but also seems willing to accept the ever-present Chinese control while in Tibet. No doubt some will object to his lack of political agenda, being satisfied with nothing less than seeing him wear a "Free Tibet!" t-shirt, but that's not how these programs work.
A highlight is a lengthy walking journey to the high altitude Anapurna region, where Palin carries on valiantly despite being quite ill. On the other hand, an extended sequence with a yak farmer (really!) and his family seems intended to evoke the dhow sequence again, but far too much time is spent seeing Palin stirring some sort of gruel in a large pot, churning butter, and making small talk to a group of people none of whom understand a word he is saying. Too much time is also spent chronicling a polo match in Pakistan and a horse show in Tibet.
Bonus features include the expected post-program interview, and a wealth of deleted scenes, some of which are as fascinating as anything in the series, and would have been welcomed instead of the above-mentioned time-killers. Also included is the only instance of a pre-trip interview, where Palin reflects on what he is about to undertake. Unlike the other interviews, this one doesn't offer much value.
"New Europe" 7 episodes on 3 discs
You wouldn't think Eastern Europe would be as compelling as the more exotic places Palin visits in previous journeys; you'd be wrong. Palin takes advantage of rapidly changing conditions to become acquainted with countries that not too long ago were hidden behind the Iron Curtain. As in the previous three series, there is the lack of a sense of a coherent travel route, as location changes at times seem almost random; at one point Palin jumps from Ukraine to the northern Baltic region. But, as always, the places visited are fascinating, and Palin's winning everyman style serves him particularly well, as he asks people's views about the end of Communism and Soviet influence and the growth of the European Union. He also renews contact with people he met years before on previous journeys. Amusingly, where the two previous series offered stunning natural beauty, this time the cinematographers seem most interested in a different kind of beauty, and miss no opportunity to point the cameras at an endless number of pretty girls. This series is definitely easy on the eyes.
Bonus features include a large number of deleted scenes, often as interesting as the series itself, and an interview that is oddly split into to two parts over two discs. Unlike in previous sets, the interview is not particularly in depth, only discussing the locations seen in the first few episodes.
Overall "The Michael Palin Collection" is a set well worth having. It's a look at some of the least known areas of the world (at least to the West), and Palin is an infectiously enthusiastic guide and fellow traveler. Even people who don't care for travel documentaries may find these programs refreshingly down to earth and just plain fun.