If you haven’t seen this series already, the following review may persuade you to check it out. I had already reviewed the book, Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World a long time ago. I met Miles Walker who is a freelance writer and blogger. He is providing a guest post which reviews the TV series. Give him a warm welcome everyone.
If you went up to the average bike lover and told them that one of the best motorcycle shows of the last ten years was a reality series – featuring the guy from Moulin Rouge, hanging out with an actor buddy whose credits mainly include a bunch of art house flicks from the last twenty years – they’d probably laugh at you.
With so many actors out there who have been iconic to the biking community – guys like Peter Fonda, for instance, and even Hugh Laurie of House M.D. is a known motorcycle buff – it seems odd that Ewan McGregor and the largely obscure Charley Boorman would wind up being the pair headlining what turned out to be a really, really great series.
Anyways, the show’s hook isn’t the star power. We see McGregor and Boorman here not as stars, or as celebrities, or as actors, but as bike lovers going on a life changing trip from London to New York… the hard way. The two leads and their crew travel east, covering Europe, the Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia and finally through Canada and the Northeastern tip of the United States.
While the focus of the journey began under the banner of riding for UNICEF, and the series does bring light to UNICEF causes, the resulting effect is not that you’re watching this to fill some quota of public service shows that you need to watch to feel better about yourself. Rather, it becomes clear right from the start that the point is the journey, the adventure, rather than any political cause.
McGregor and Boorman make a strong pairing and a refreshing alternative to the fresh faced, pampered contestants we’ve seen on dozens of travel themed reality game shows. As the cast and crew suffer setbacks, they press on and take it all in stride. They have a sense of humor over lesser misfortunes and a sense of perseverance against major setbacks, including serious injury (McGregor twice had gasoline sprayed in his eyes, having undergone laser surgery just before the show began).
The hook of the show is that you’re watching a motorcycle trip around the world, and certainly, a few viewers were brought in with the promise of watching a famous actor undergo that journey. By the end of the series, though, you realize that it’s really about a surprisingly personal journey for the cast and crew against a backdrop of some of the most gorgeous riding locations in the world, from the Church of Bones to Mount Rushmore and some gorgeous stretches of highway in between.
All of this is captured with some fairly innovative camera techniques and equipment. The bike-mounted cameras and microphones give us a rider’s-seat view and often allow us a more personal look without ever quite feeling intrusive, as so many reality shows manage to be. Meanwhile, the road crew present us with some breathtaking vistas and action shots.
If there’s one major disappointment about the series, it’s that it debuted in 2004, which was well before HD and Blu-Ray really took off. If there’s ever been a reality series begging to be seen in Hi-Def, this is it.
This show wound up kicking off a whole series of travelogue style reality shows for McGregor and Boorman, being followed by Race to Dakar, Long Way Down, By Any Means and Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means. While each series has something of its own to offer viewers, the original may be the most affecting of all of them. This is where you first see the duo make that decision to go through with the biggest adventure of their lives.
This isn’t to say that they’ve lost their fire by the filming of Sydney to Tokyo, or that Long Way Down is without its own unique merits, but the emotional impact of Long Way Round is hard to repeat.
If you have a choice, you’ll want to go with the expanded special edition discs. It’s only three episodes longer, but it’s not simply an issue of “bonus episodes”. Only the tenth and final episode contains all new footage, while the rest of the series has actually been completely restructured in editing, expanding the full story with unused footage and bonus material to simply give the whole journey a little more “breathing room”.
Miles Walker is a freelance writer and blogger who usually compares car insurance deals over at CarinsuranceComparison.Org.