Long Way Down: Complete TV Series - Special Edition
R1 - America - EMI Records
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (25th November 2008).
The Show

There are some celebrities that do a fairly good job of staying off of the public radar outside of their films. While some will go to extremes of almost disappearing off of the face of the planet (by choice, not by a failing career) others simply do a good job of keeping their privacy in the face of some huge celebrity. So when one of the latter sort of actors appears in documentary mini-series that shows off their relatively normal personality and actions, it’s bound to pique my interest.

In this case it’s Ewan McGregor engaging in a motorcycle journey documented in “Long Way Down,”(2007) a 10 episode mini-series that documents a trip from John O’ Groats Scotland, traveling about as far south as you can get: Cape Town, South Africa. Over the course of the 3 month trip, McGregor and friend Charley Boorman drive through England and France to Italy where they cross to Tunisia following Africa’s northwestern coast down into Egypt, heading inwards in Sudan down through Malawi where they cross back east to Namibia and the South West coast of Africa, pushing finally to South Africa.

Visually the series paints a beautiful picture of Africa’s diverse climates and regions, as seen from both McGregor and Boorman’s helmet cameras and the shots crafted by cameraman/director of photography Claudio Von Planta to show of more of the surroundings and add a third party to document the trip. There’s some incredible sights to be seen that certainly aspire for the magnitude of “Planet Earth” (2006) but obviously falls short as the true focus is on the motorcycle journey from northern Scotland to South Africa and the adventure of the two friends.

The commentary the two provide and the adventures they embark on are more engaging than I originally thought, not only getting a glimpse of McGregor off screen, but showing the varied peoples and areas of Africa as well. Of course there are the antics that are hilarious to see, like McGregor laughing and filming Boorman perform an infamous blue dart while the two are camping. Of course there are some complications along the way, lending the drama that some may be after, however the trip remains relatively free of any kind of major incident or problem (other than an early injury to McGregor before the trip really begins). The series does a great job of not only showing the journey itself, but this special edition set shows a fuller preparation and travel process, including some of the more menial issues like paperwork, passports and visa troubles. While these aren’t nearly as interesting as the journey itself, I enjoyed the fact that they showed how complex this sort of journey is, even for a Jedi like McGregor.

Overall, “Long Way Down” is an interesting and incredibly watchable documentary mini-series that covers the journey fairly well. There are some points that seem a little bit dramatized, but these are forgivable in the larger scheme of the series that has some great scenery, an interesting concept and good overall story that’s very conscious of what’s going on where McGregor and Boorman travel.

This 3-disc set covers the 10 episodes of the special edition, summarized below:

- "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines"
- "John O’Groates, Scotland to Siena, Italy"
- "Rome, Italy to Tobruk, Libya"
- "Tobruk, Libya to Khartoum, Sudan"
- "Khartoum, Sudan to Shashemene, Ethiopia"
- "Shashemene, Ethiopia to Laisamis, Kenya"
- "Laisamis, Kenya to Kigali, Rwanda"
- "Kigali, Rwanda to Chintheche, Malawi"
- "Chintheche, Malawi to Maun, Botswana"
- "Maun, Botswana to Cape Town, South Africa"

Video

While I mentioned some of the great scenery and sights of the journey earlier, the video transfer quality leaves these shots with something to be desired. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer doesn’t seem like the highest quality as the colors at times feel fairly flat and the clarity will sometimes go a bit pixilated and blurry, though not out of focus.

Audio

Presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, the audio quality is fine for what it is, there’s a nice soundtrack to accompany the narration and dialogue. The sound isn’t super immersive, but it’s well put together for the various recordings they have which heavily use the lower-quality wireless in-helmet microphones between Ewan and Charlie.
Subtitles are presented in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Extras

Across the 3-disc set there are a handful of no-nonsense extras: mostly featurettes and a TV special that expand the scope of the series and a dramatic lack of bonus trailers or advertisements for other related products. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

There are no extras on this disc.

DISC TWO:

“The Missing Face” TV special runs for 44 minutes and 56, this feature shows McGregor and Boorman talking about their experiences with UNICEF and their experiences with different villages in Africa that have been struck by hunger, disease and or poverty. It’s nice to see that the two took some time out to look at the problems facing the region they toured through, rather than just driving through, lending some more celebrity support to the cause of UNICEF.

DISC THREE:

Here come the bulk of extras, mostly featurettes which are essentially cut segments from different parts of the series.

“Charley visits Touratech” featurette which runs for 2 minutes and 58 seconds. This featurette covers Charley’s supply shopping for the equipment they will be using on the “Long Way Down.”

“Vice President of Iraq, Sudan” featurette runs for 1 minute 40 seconds, Charley and Ewan try to go to the top of a hotel to see the Nile when it turns out that the Vice President of Iraq is visiting the hotel and security is incredibly tight.

“Elephant in the Night, Botswana” featurette runs for 1 minute 32 seconds, Ewan recounts hearing an elephant outside his tent the previous night, even finding some of the tracks from the elephant near his campsite.

“Moose McGregor’s Apple Pie, Namibia” featurette runs for 1 minute 17 seconds, Ewan and Charley try ‘the best apple pie in Namibia.’

“Arrival Party Cape Town” featurette runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds, the entire "Long Way Down" crew celebrates their arrival and the end of their journey, flying in friends, family and parts of the London crew to South Africa to end the journey together.

“Top Fuel Drag Racing” featurette runs for 4 minutes, Charley and some of the crew go to Las Vegas to see some drag racing including a racer that was painted to represent and display the “Long Way Down” journey.

“UNICEF Fundraiser” featurette runs for 4 minutes, Ewan, Charley and the “Long Way Down” crew who put together an event of music and motorcycles to raise money for UNICEF and other associated charitable groups.

“Ewan and Charley Say Goodbye to the Bikes, Cape Town” featurette runs for 1 minute and 48 seconds, Ewan and Charley say goodbye to the motorcycles they rode on the trip as they are returned to BMW, Ewan mentioning see you in South America possibly hinting at another “Long Way” journey.

“The Support Vehicles” featurette runs for 2 minutes 1 second. The cars used for support and supply carrying get their own quick run through.

Interactive map as the title suggests, this feature is an interactive map of the “Long Way Down” journey, which has basic summaries of general facts and statistics about the countries the group passed through.

There’s also a photo gallery consisting of 33 images of different aspects of the journey from supplies and bikes in Europe to the actual travel in Africa.

Overall

The Show: B+ Video: C+ Audio: B- Extras: A- Overall: B

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.