Travel documentary series, while at times they can be enoyable, aren’t necessarily my thing. Often times, like Travels in Europe, by Portland native Rick Steves, or Globe Trekker, the people hosting the show are people who travel professionally – they write about it, and often times they take the time to get to know an area, and thus they have all the tricks and tips to pass along to you to make your stay more comfortable. I’ve also found that these end up making the documentary a little less approachable. They’re being told by an old hand. So, in the course of my travels and travails through Netflix, I found a travel documentary series by Michael Palin – Around the World in 80 days. Being a fan of Monty Python (as is any self respecting geek), I watched it. Now, what did I think about it?
Michael Palin is challenged to go around the world in 80 days, without using any form of air transport, following (as closely as safely possible) the route of Phineass Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s novel. Accompanying him on his trip is his own Passepartout – a 6-man film crew from the BBC who is recording the trip. The journey will take Palin across Europe, the Middle East, to India, China, Japan, and finally across the Pacific Ocean, the US (by Train) and across the Atlantic back to Great Britain. With improved engine technology from Verne’s time, it should be a peace of cake. Shouldn’t it?
The documentary, from at the very leat a journalistic standpoint, is an interesting portrait of the times – The Iraq-Iran war had only recently been over, and Palin passed through Hong Kong before the hand-over to the Chinese, and more significantly, mere weeks before the Tienanmen Square protest, and Japan in the midst of the Bubble Economy. It’s also amazing to see such a comparison of boat and train travel across the trip – from the formal luxury of the Venice-Semplon (sp) Orient Express, to the mass of humanity on trains in the Middle East and India, to the middle ground of Amtrak – less luxurious than the Orient Express, but more comfortable than the trains in India. Simiarlaly with boat travel, from passenger boats to small freighters, do a Dao, to massive container ships.
To Palin’s credit, he never intentionally makes anyone look stupid – that’s not his humor style. But I can’t help but feel in the editing that some of the people they selected from all their copious amounts of footage were selected because they looked stupid, particularly in India and in the United States.
I am pleased to say that there is nothing in this documentary that I would fit in the “Ugly” category.
If you’re looking to watch this for travel advise – it’s woefully out of date for that (20 years out of date, approximately). However, if you’re watching this to see what a slice of the world was really like 20 years ago – I’d say you can’t do too much better than this.