Michael Palin
Around the World in 80 Days

Starring: Michael Palin
BBC Worldwide
RRP 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available now

Taking on the famous challenge to circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days, Michael Palin follows in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne's fictional hero, using the same routes and transport wherever possible, and not allowed the use of air travel. In the modern world, however, air travel has destroyed the scheduled passenger steamer, and decimated the global rail links. Gradually Michael realises that things can only go from good to bad, to impossible...

I started watching this DVD 15 years to the day that Michael Palin began his journey (which itself was started 116 years to the day after Phileas Fogg's fictional adventures began). This wasn't intentional on my part, it's just the way the review schedules worked out, but I couldn't help feel I was part of some monumental journey myself. However, I wasn't afforded the luxury of 80 days to get the review finished.

The first episode sees more concerned with Palin's numerous meetings with experts as he tried to discover whether travelling around the world in 80 days without the aid of air transport was possible. He even calls on Alan Wicker - any respect you may have had for the man is short lived as he informs Palin how he deals with the natives! However, he does offer Palin some good advice: "Don't con the audience" by pretending that you don't have a camera crew travelling with you. And for the next seven episodes Palin tries not to con us, referring to his entourage as his Passepartout. But when buying tickets he always asks for "one" (although he could be asking for a "one way" ticket). Unlike Jules Verne's Passepartout, the BBC employees didn't fail to finish the journey after getting drunk in Hong Kong.

It is during the interviews at the start of the first episode that we start to see some dodgy editing. Palin looks bored and his interviewees seem to be cut short mid-story due to poor cut away shots that don't quite match.

But before you know it Palin sets off in style aboard the Orient Express - although it is a little sad to see that it's not a steam locomotive that pulls the carriages. Instead a diesel engine is in place.

From early on, due to industrial action, Palin's plans to circumnavigate the globe in the allotted time seems to be in doubt. In fact this is a reoccurring theme throughout the journey. And when he nears the end of his quest, travelling through the US, his over confidence nearly ruins everything. By spending a day sight seeing everything almost comes unstuck.

Another element I thought added to the series was the music. The familiar theme was varied from country to country to reflect the culture, while this pandered to stereotypical images of each country it still raises a smile.

I was unsure why the BBC had released this on three discs. It would comfortably have fitted on two. But then the RRP is only £20, so you can't complain. The only extra on the disc is a new 20 minute interview with Palin that makes for interesting viewing. Possibly the most amazing fact was that the BBC had only originally scheduled the series for six episodes, and that the third episode - which sees Palin spend his time on an Indian ship - was stretched from its originally planned 10 minutes. And what a good thing it was, as this is by far the best episode. Incidentally this episode also suffers from some poor editing. Palin's shipmates are seen to laugh at his poor attempts at having a bath on deck. The cutaways of them laughing seem not to be at Palin's expense, and the one shot you see of them and him in the same frame we hear laughing, but it is not them as they are glancing out to sea.

I could easily have watched more footage - sadly the second half of the journey is squeezed into the last episode.

Palin shows scenes that most documentary makers would shy away from. There is a rather sad scene with child beggars leaning into Palin's taxi. He looks concerned, but explains why he feels it is wrong to give them money. Controversial, but as a filmmaker it shows guts. Also, his sarcastic attack on a London newspaper vendor is of equal merit. Having travelled around the World he has been greeted like an old friend by strangers in foreign lands and yet in his own country he is treated with distaste.

Oh and one last thing... doesn't Palin state that no air travel will be used? So what was he doing in a hot air balloon? He obviously means no modern air travel? An interesting fact that Palin mentions is that Fogg never travelled in a balloon in Vernes original novel - it was something invented for the movie.

From my earlier nitpicking you may have thought I wasn't overly keen on this collection. Far from it. It is educational, entertaining and very funny. This should be one DVD that everyone should have in their collection.

Darren Rea


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