Case Number 18268: Small Claims Court


History Channel // 2009 // 376 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // February 6th, 2010

The Charge

They will face severe dehydration, deadly diseases, wild animals, and more than 29 kinds of venomous snakes, only to learn that the greatest danger may actually be one another.

The Case

As both a DVD reviewer and a film and TV fan, I am still saddened by the realization that the last decade was largely dominated by reality TV. It's even more nauseating that the very term is little more than a contrivance that allows producers to edit their programs in an attempt to trick viewers into believing a given storyline is unfolding right before the cameras. What's probably even worse than all of this? The TV viewing public ate it up like a discount buffet, as producer Mark Burnett's many awards and accolades clearly demonstrate.

Likely the father of reality TV, at least for American audiences, Burnett has built his fame and fortunes with series like Survivor and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. I have to confess that my interest was piqued by the fact that not only did Expedition: Africa promise some stunning African visuals, but I was also intrigued by how the show might pan out with Burnett at the helm. Is there any real historical value to Expedition: Africa? No question. And fortunately for history and nature buffs, the beauty of Africa, its varied terrain and wildlife are featured prominently throughout the series. Sadly, there's so much contrived conflict and drama woven throughout, that viewers are forced to take the good with the bad.

Unlike the concepts behind Survivor, Expedition: Africa begins with the premise of four modern-day explorers armed with only maps, a compass and relatively limited resources, setting out to retrace the steps journalist H.M. Stanley took to find Dr. David Livingstone. The real (or imagined) pressure is on as navigator Pasquale Scatturo, anthropologist Mireya Mayor, explorer and author Benedict Allen, and journalist Kevin Sites have just 30 days to complete Stanley's 970-mile, eight-month journey from the coast inland to Tanzania. Why do they have just 30 days to complete their trek? I guess it just makes for good TV for the attention-deficit masses. All eight episodes of the series are included here, spread over three discs as follows:

Disc One
* "Lost In Africa"
* "First Victim"
* "Hunters Become The Hunted"

Disc Two
* "African Monsoon"
* "Danger in the Desert"
* "Malaria Claims An Explorer"

Disc Three
* "Heart of Darkness"
* "The Final Chapter"

The explorers bicker, fight, and argue about just about everything from water and shelter, to first aid and who has the most experience and expertise. If you've seen even a single episode of Survivor over the years, the formula and much of the conflict will seem all too familiar. Sure there are a multitude of dangers in the wilds of Africa, but it becomes exceedingly hard to believe that they're really in that much danger, especially with a film crew and a full production team lurking just behind the lens. For me, the biggest disappointment was that I thought the History Channel had a lot more class than to pander to the flavor-of-the decade reality TV craze, but I was clearly mistaken.

Expedition: Africa is largely a disappointment on standard DVD, with an average and underwhelming audio mix that stays anchored in the front and a video presentation that is, if you'll pardon the pun, all over the map. A mixture of signature Burnett elements like slow motion, night vision and artsy pan shots, the content doesn't even compare with the quality you'd see in current TV productions. Whether they rushed the series into production for release or were just lazy, A&E hasn't done anyone any favors here. Given how significant the production budget likely was for this series, dropping the ball crossing the finish line to home video release wasn't smart.

The DVD release of Expedition: Africa also includes six short featurettes:

* "Expedition Africa: The Making of History" delivers behind-the-scenes and background information on the production.
* "Stanley and Livingstone" offers up a bit more of the historical context that inspired the History series.
* "The Massai" delves more deeply into the tribal culture that is depicted in the series.
* "Wild Beasts, Disease and The Elements" profiles some of the animals that represented potential dangers for Expedition: Africa team. This featurette goes on to addresses how minor injuries and the elements could mean curtains for any one of the explorers.
* "Survival Strategies" provides tips for surviving occurrences from minor injuries to becoming lost.
* "Dangers of the Wild" talks about more bad stuff that could happen if you get up off your couch and go out into the world (okay, okay we get it!).

Despite my serious misgivings on the A/V presentation and the Burnett-esque delivery, Expedition: Africa does offer some great moments. Aerial and crane shots deliver spectacular panoramic views of some of Africa's most breathtaking scenery, wildlife, and landscapes. From the arid plains to the lush mountain peaks, Africa is both a wondrous and dangerous place -- and that is not entirely lost here. While not a solid choice for purchase, if you can get past the plot and conflict contrivances, Expedition: Africa does have its moments.

The Verdict

Guilty of trying to make us feel more tension than is actually there.

Review content copyright © 2010 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 376 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurettes

* IMDb

* Official Site