Long Way Down
Many men dream about getting on a motorcycle and just taking off into the unknown. There is such a feeling of ultimate freedom involved with such an endeavor that almost any man has this fantasy sometime in his life. Unfortunately for most of us there are those little matters of wife, children, job and other like responsibilities that pop that dream before you could ever realistically do anything to fulfill it. After World War II there were a lot of government surplus motorcycles that were bought by the returning veterans. This really started the love affair between Americans and the bike. This feeling has not been confined to the States. Many in Europe, especially Great Britain have this in common with us here. In 2004 British television produced a mini series documentary that looked at a fantastic journey made by two men, actors Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor. The show called ‘Long Way Around’ detailed their trip from London to New York City going, as the title suggests, west for a total of some 20,000 miles. Now they have the sequel ‘Long Way Down’ where this time they head from John O'Groats, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. This is a shorter trip; a mere 15,000 miles. At this point most men out there are salivating at the very thought of free spirited travel like this. This is a unique mini series. It is true reality television far better than the contrived shows like ‘The Amazing Race’. It must be great to be of independent financial means to arrange and execute something of this scope. The second mini series was broadcast on BBC 2 about a year ago but now the whole series is available on DVD through EMI Films. This is an incredible chance to follow two men on the adventure of a life time. There is so much of little value on television with those so called reality shows than when something like this comes around it will blow you away. It must be noted that there is a parental warning sticker prominently displayed on the cover of this DVD set. The kids may want to see one of their favorite ‘Star Wars’ heroes on a motorcycle but the language and some of the scenes are a bit too rough for younger viewers. Other than that this is a thrilling look at a drive that crosses the map.
The series was directed by David Alexanian and Russ Malkin. Alexanian has previously only worked on the ‘Long Way Around’ but he did executive produce a couple of films; a comedy and a drama. Malkin has only worked on the previous series with another documentary with the same stars in between. Both men may not have a long resume but they are excellent in their work here. For the most part they do what a documentary director should do; let the subjects speak for themselves. In this case it is not restricted to just the men; the scenery and people they encounter along the way are treated as the integral part of the work. From a production and technical standpoint this is a remarkable feat. The journey took cast and crew through some twenty countries in Europe and Africa. This was new terrain for the team here on both sides of the camera. One very wise move was to not only reunite the two men on the bikes but to bring back almost the entire behind the scenes crew. The ten episodes of this series spanned the period from May 12, 2007 to August 4, 2007. The sheer magnitude of this trek really comes slamming home when you look at the map of their travels. Ranging from the British Isle to the very tip of Africa they traveled through many lands containing different cultures and languages.
One person who deserves a lot of credit here is the cinematographer James Simak. He fully captures the mind boggling beauty of the country sides they went through. He brings the areas to life better than any travelogue I have ever seen. He is also new to his craft working on the previous series as most of his credits. This fact just demonstrates the innate talent of this man and the rest of the crew here. Also noteworthy are the editors; Julia Frater, Eddie Hamilton; Paul Jackson and Julian Rodd. It was up to them to take an unimaginable amount of raw footage and work with the directors to come up with a cohesive story that will grab and hold the interest of the audience. Without them this would have looked more like some well filmed family vacation movies. Instead what you get here is a real story. It is not just about the trip but more importantly about how this journey affected the men involved. This is as much about self discovery as it is about the trip at hand. It may seem strange that an actor the status of McGregor would be so moved and changed by such an experience but he and his friend was. It many ways this series shows that even a world renowned actor is still human and shares the same sense of wonderment as we would under similar circumstances. His fame only afforded him the opportunity to do it instead of just dreaming about it. Both McGregor and Boorman have been in many films playing a variety of parts. Here they do something we rarely see; just be themselves.
There is more to this series than just two men traveling. Along the way they delivered life saving supplies on behalf of UNICEF. Along the way they visit places such as a genocide museum and the sites of many of the most horrible tragedies man has inflicted. The one major downside is the pacing of the journey. In order to make their destination in the allotted time they had to rush through many places. It would have nice if they could have meandered a bit more but it is understandable that the budget for something like this had to be very tight. With all the serious business at hand here they did have time for a little humor. The two men are obviously great friends who are used to joking around with each other. Often McGregor is the target of the jibes. At one point they stop in Tunisia to see the setting of the original Star Wars. There is a little museum there to commemorate the shoot and when no one recognizes McGregor it is a bit of a blow to his ego. This levity is balanced by poignant scenes of children who were forced to work in the Ugandan military. This series is not only great entertainment it is a real eye opener for those of us watching from the safety of our living rooms.
This is something special that just shouldn’t be missed. Everything is here from the initial planning to the final stop at the tip of Africa. Besides the ten episodes this DVD set contains fascinating extras that give an in depth look behind the scenes. Most of us may only dream of a trip like this but now at least we can live vicariously through this set.