Monday, June 3, 2013

Palin's Around the World in 80 Days

Stuffed here among the other documentaries I've posted, this one seems more visceral, a great deal less intellectual.  It, too, would be a doc that launched a thousand crappy docs, for while Michael Palin had resources and a world-wide challenge to manage here, we've seen dozens of others take on some incredibly mundane 'adventures' and try to pass them off as something worth watching.

This series works not because the travel is particularly well documented, but because Palin himself is so entertaining.  He manages to put himself into various circumstances, both mundane and dangerous, all with that sort of British aplomb which simply isn't there with many over-produced hosts in the modern age.  The best feature of this documentary now is that it's almost 25 years old - which means it shows a world that was, that in large part has ceased to exist ... while at the same time showing that in fact we haven't advanced as much as we might think in the last quarter century.  Certainly not if we were to compare 1989 with 1964.

I don't have to explain who Michael Palin is to a bunch of D&D Monty Python enthusiasts, so I'll skip that.  The series itself explains how it comes about ... and through the series, there's no hint that Palin will become the fanatic about travel that he has.  He soon topped Around the World in 80 Days with Pole to Pole (which I'll talk about later), and then a long series of different, rather flat documentaries that go far to feed his obvious addiction to journeying everywhere.

The flaw in Around the World shows from what's filmed - 'Passepartout,' the camera crew throughout the documentary, are somewhat limited in what shots they can set up, and for how long, so there's a very heavy emphasis on the main cities.  The runtime in total is just over 340 minutes, yet we see Cairo for 20 of it, Bombay for 20 of it and a town in Colorado for 15.  In comparison, the train ride across India lasts less than 10, the majority of what you see during the train ride through China is people on the train, while the various container ships Palin is forced to travel on offer very little insight of place.

Still, the dhow from Dubai to Bombay - an entire episode - is by far the best part, for you become quite chummy with the residents living their very real lives.  If you see no other part of the series, be sure you see part three.

All of it is available on youtube, starting here.  Netflix probably has it also, I don't know for sure (someone will write to say so if true).

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