Full Circle With Michael Palin (DVD)
Travel 50,000 miles around the Pacific Rim with Michael Palin. His entertaining wit and incredible capacity to experience the unknown, guides you FULL...
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Review of "Full Circle With Michael Palin (DVD)"
Format... ...3 Discs with 10 episodes
Duration... ...487 minutes
Language... ...English (subtitles an option)
Presenter... ...Michael Palin
No longer constrained by such restrictive schedules, 'Full Circle' was Palin's chance to exercise more freedom to explore and savour the countries that crossed his path, which this time entailed eighteen nations along the Pacific Rim. His journey covers 50,000 miles, starting in Alaska and circumnavigating the globe over the course of a year. Whilst 'Eighty Days' was to a certain degree about Palin's triumphs and tribulations, 'Full Circle' shifted focus to ensure that whilst he was an integral part of the presentation, greater emphasis was placed on his numerous destinations. In some ways the format remains true to '80 Days', as this series does not bombard the viewer with a vast array of detailed facts, but there are slices of life from each nation which are representative of the various cultures. Though these seem to be no more than appetizers, this is deceptive as there is more insight than would at first appear.
As an introduction to 'Around the World in Eighty Days', Michael Palin reflected that with the hectic pace of modern life and convenience of travelling by air, much time seems to be spent passing through countries where the only glimpse of the nation beyond the airport is to be gleaned from travel books in the terminals' shops. In that fine series, Palin attempted to beat the record set by the fictitious Phileas Fogg, following the same route set down by author Jules Verne. Whilst the ex-Python was able to reveal something of the countries he passed through, some of the focus was apportioned to the logistical nightmares of travelling by ship and rail, with one eye permanently fixed on the ever ticking clock. He reflected that all he saw of Singapore were the docks as he made haste to join another ship to continue the race against Fogg's ghost. So while Palin was able to dip his toe in to the culture of the nations he passed through, he was never able to completely break the shackles of expediency due to the time limit on his journey.
The dvd set of 'Full Circle' comprises three discs and ten episodes. Though, for reasons outlined at the foot of this review, this is the best of his travelogues in many respects, the episodes are of varied interest. To quote the man himself, " This is the richest, longest, most ambitious and most exhausting of all the journeys. There was so much to do and so many different terrains, climates, foods and illnesses to experience that at one point it seemed like we were engaged on the ultimate new Olympic event - Full Circling." With this depth of content in mind and due to the fact that some episodes are more enjoyable than others, the following are brief synopses and assessments of each episode to give a taste of the dvd's offerings. I have been as selective as possible, as whilst on the one hand I find it helpful to know at least a skeleton outline when buying a documentary dvd, I do not want to make this review the length of a short novel. I have only touched the surface and to skimp anymore would be a disservice to the dvd.
SYNOPSES AND OPINIONS
.....Episode One - Alaska and RussiaThe grey skies over a bleak landscape of rock and sparse greenery of Little Diomede, Alaska, (Palin's departure point) somewhat reflect the slow and inauspicious start to this series. Palin takes a while to warm to his task though his good humour prevails as this programme slowly crunches its way into gear, just like the archaic modes of transport that he relies upon, as he travels south via the 'Golden sands of Nome' down to Anchorage for his flight to Petropavlosk, Kamchatka.
The arrival in Russia signals a revitalisation of this episode with visits to Magadan, which was built in the 1930's by slave labour and whose road leads to the sinister shells of the former gulag work camps. This is one of the more poignant moments as Palin visits one such abandoned work camp with a survivor, who returns for the first time in fifty years. The sobriety of this passage lifts, however, when Palin journeys on to Vladvostok, where he gets a chance to sing 'Poluishka Pole' with the renowned choir of the Russian Pacific Fleet, bringing the episode to a memorable, uplifting conclusion.
.....Episode Two - Japan and Korea
Whilst Palin's journey through Japan is mostly upbeat, his arrival in Korea sees a rather sombre finale to the episode as he experiences protests against corruption, a rather commercial wedding and finally the depressing (but intriguing) border with North Korea......Episode Three - China
Palin docks in Qingdao, China, staying in a room formerly favoured by Mao Tse-Tung, before leaving this seaside resort for a pilgrimage to sacred Taishan Mountain. A 550 mile train ride and he reaches the bustle of modern, ever expanding Shanghai. After dwelling here, Palin ventures further inland via the mighty Yangtzee river on his way towards Chongqing to pick up a train towards Hanoi, Vietnam.China is one of the more interesting of the episodes with Palin at his most affable in front of an interesting, diverse and often impressive (though not necessarily picturesque) backdrop.
.....Episode Four - Vietnam and The PhilippenesThe momentum from China is carried forward in to Vietnam with stimulating visits to The Forbidden City, Marble Mountain and the Cu-Chi Tunnels while Palin continues in good form with some very humorous observations. The sense of humour of the Vietnamese compliments Palin's personality, making this an enjoyable passage.
The presenter's enthusiasm remains undiminished when he continues his journey in to the Philippenes, a vibrant country which many citizens seem so desperate to leave for 'greener grass' and a place with which Palin is quite obviously smitten......Episode Five - Borneo
Reaching Borneo in the monsoon season, the episode looks at some of the natural history of this lush country with a visit to an orangutan sancuary, while Palin also learns something of the country's history and the White Rajahs. No presentation on Borneo would be complete without mention of headhunting, so a feast in a 'long house' deep in the jungle with the Iban people, allows Palin to shed light on Borneos traditional way of life and dispel the fearsome reputation. Next stop Australia......Episode Six - Australia and New Zealand
Palin's experiences in Australia centre largley around animals, whether it is hatching crocodiles on a farm, observing a flying vet, cow racing or participating in the exhausting capture of wild camels in the Outback; visits to the likes of Adelaide and Sydney bring more civilised encounters.Under the fanfare of a firework display, Palin leaves Sydney for Auckland, New Zealand and then Wellington. Whale watching, Mount Cook, a rather awkward encounter with the Maoris, more physical exertion through white water rafting and finally a rather sadistic student induction all follow before its on to South America.
With the exception of the first episode, the first half of this series is very engaging and when the human interaction takes a back seat, the visuals maintain the standard with some stunning landscapes......Episode Seven - Cape Horn and Chile
Cape Horn beckons Palin to South America with uncharacteristically calm seas before he steps on to the mainland, stopping first at Punto Arenas, Chile. After a brief opportunity to admire the Andes its off to the barren island of Chiloe for a unique barbeque, then on to the contrastingly populous Santiago. A detour to the Juan Fernandez Islands delays Palin's progress as he heads towards Bolivia through the Atacama Desert.This episode is very interesting in parts but seems longer than others, mainly because of a higher concerntration of destinations; some more stimulating than others.
.....Episode Eight - Bolivia and PeruHaving eventually reached La Paz in Bolivia, Palin visits Copacabana and the highest lake in the world - Lake Titticaca, which straddles Bolivia and Peru, so its from here that Palin moves on.
Lake Titticaca still features as Palin enters Peru, before he ventures deeper via a train to Cuzco, passing unremarkable grasslands which hide the beginnings of the Urubamba River, which itself becomes the Amazon at the Columbian border. The Amazon awaits while Palin samples the chaotic Festival of Chorpus Christi, experiences the Inca Heartlands and joins up with an ex-pat to explore the follow the Urubamba.
Much of the interest in this episode lies in the sometimes spectacular settings towards the latter part of the programme as the imposing presence of the Andes is usurped by the lush Amazon Basin.
Palin continues to follow the Amazon from Cuzco up to Iquitos before entering Columbia. One of the most fascinating passages of the series concerns Bogota where another ex pat leads Palin down Bullet Street (to the accompaniment of rocks bouncing off their car) as they experience one of the most dangerous urban areas in the world. Palin's offer of dinner at drug lord Don Fabio's acclaimed restaurant is declined as his jouranalist companion explains he would be shot on sight if he ventured there. The don does not take kindly to criticism he can give it but he can't take it that lad.After visiting Don Fabio, Palin continues north through rural Columbia, with its guerillas and emerald mines before heading to the relative stability of Mexico.
.....Episode Ten - Mexico, The USA and CanadaA sojourn in the vastness of Mexico City delays the inevitable march north towards the border with the United States, where Palin spends time watching the hapless 'Pallos' try to leave the poverty of Mexico behind for the 'American Dream'.
Once Palin has legally entered the States himsellf, he samples Los Angeles with the US reporter / pilot who covered the OJ chase, before he leaves for Alcatraz where former inmates dispel any rose tinted notions. San Francisco, and its gay community, then welcomes Palin before he again heads north. Seattle is the next and final stop as the team head to Vancouver and on to British Columbia for the final leg back to Little Diomedes.There is a slight feeling of anti climax with this last episode which for many will be very interesting, but personally, is something of a disappointment which is maybe down to our familiarity with the subject and Palin's understandable fatigue.
As with all the Python team, Palin is blessed with intelligence. His observations are generally astute and, coupled with his grounded attitude, the viewer senses that his emotions and reactions are sincere. When an extremely mature and capable young Vietnames girl guides him through various remnants of the war with the USA, his transformation from a tourist's suspicion to admiration is genuine. In a similar vein, with distressing situations, the sincerity in his concern is there for all to see. No histionics, no fuss but when he is moved it shows and it is convincing; seen in contrast to his naturally jocular behaviour, this enriches the presentation and the programme. Palin knows when to act the fool (which he wisely rations), when to be serious and he has a refreshing sense of the understatement normally accompanied by wittily ironic throw aways. 'Full Circle' would not have quite the same charm without his presence.
SUMMARY AND COMPARISONS
There are three main reasons why this is the best in the Michael Palin series of travelogues, the first of which has been discussed at the top of this review; namely that Palin was able to forget the pressures of a restrictive schedule and explore the places he visited with greater depth. The second reason is Palin himself. The idea of globe trotting is once more embraced with enthusiasm here, a feeling that is not conveyed with conviction in the earlier series 'Pole To Pole' (1992) for example, where a weariness appears to set in quite early in to the journey. The third advantage of 'Full Circle' concerns the interviewees who are generally a far more charismatic collection than on the afore-mentioned release. In the latter, Palin seemed to squirm with embarrassment on numerous occasions whilst trying to cope with some awkward encounters and, rather out of character, seemed ill at ease as he tried to turn a dull passage in to something more stimulating. This does happen in 'Full Circle' but these moments are much fewer in number, which may also be attributed to an increased confidence from Palin. A combination of the best of both series would be a must have for anyone yearning to travel.'Full Circle' cannot really be fairly compared with 'Himalaya' and 'Sahara' as these focussed on certain regions as implicated by the title. Palin's hunger for knowledge and adventure seems to be strong in both these series as is his humour, but if a a wider view of the world is wanted, 'Full Circle' is your passport to a diversity of cultures and landscapes with an engaging, intelligent and witty guide.
Palin spent much of 2006 filming a new series for the BBC, with the working title of 'Palin's New Europe' which will be screened later this year.
.....Scene selectionIn terms of format, the dvd is well conceived, having each episode subdivided in to chapters so that the viewer can switch to a favourite part, though of course each episode flows like a continuous journey.
.....Deleted Scenes and OuttakesThese are of minimal interest - fair additions to the dvd but not vital.
.....Interview with Michael Palin
Always a good interviewee, this is again watchable but not an essential accessory to the series, as Palin is an open presenter.
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Product Information : Full Circle With Michael Palin (DVD)
Manufacturer's product descriptionTravel 50,000 miles around the Pacific Rim with Michael Palin. His entertaining wit and incredible capacity to experience the unknown, guides you FULL CIRCLE around the globe along the Pacific rim from Alaska, through Russia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Australia, South America and Mexico. But these things never quite go according to plan....<BR>He negotiates the icy waters of the Bering Strait, visits Eskimos, and drums with the famed Kodo Drummers on their remote island of Sado. He braves the wrath of communist officials in China and Vietnam, first sleeping in Mao's bed, then setting up a game of cricket in Hanoi. He continues his journey around the Pacific Rim by island-hopping in the South Pacific in a Filipino ferry and dropping in on the "Desperate and Dateless" charity ball Down Under. Crossing the International Date Line, our interpid adventurer travels up the length of South America, from Cape Horn to Santiago and beyond. He encounters isolated Indian tribes and a masked wrestler from Mexico City named "Super Barrio" on his last dash to Alaska to complete the circuit of his travels.
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