BBC Video // 2008 // 500 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 25th, 2010
"That's gone wrong!"
The most infamous gear heads in the world revisit the world of stateside DVD for their twelfth season -- and bring with them some of my favorite moments in the series.
For magic number 12, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May test drive another batch of ludicrous super cars, experiment with Japan's newest people-mover, dip their toes into the world of hydrogen-powered cars of the future, take a road trip in America (for educational purpose only) with three muscle cars, talk to a bunch of no-name celebrities plus Mark Wahlberg and the mayor of London, discover the nuances of Communist auto manufacturing, experience the life of a truck drive, take some city buses on an Enduro race and, finally, head to Vietnam for an epic cross-country motorbike tour.
I'm not sure if I mentioned this in my review of Season 10 and I'm far too lazy to look it up, but man do I love this show. I suppose you can drop it into the "reality" category of television if you'd like, but Top Gear is a genre unto itself. It's newsy, spontaneous and scripted, interesting and hilarious, and always entertaining.
Season 12 measures up exceedingly well to the high standards of previous series and, in fact, features some my favorite bits. The muscle car exhibition? Brilliant and funny. The Vietnam special? Right up there with the Botswana special, and even more visually striking. The truck challenge? Iconic and controversial (there was an outcry over Jeremy's assertion that, well, truck drivers murder prostitutes). Plus, the Stig takes the Bugatti Veyron around the track -- with surprising results.
Mixed in with these specialty diversions are the usual elements of the show: the news, which features the hosts pretty much sitting around and talking, but since all three are great and funny and have a perfect chemistry with each other, it's typically one of the most riotous stopovers; the Cool Wall, where Richard and Jeremy bicker about cars and their respective coolness (not a frequent appearance in Season 12, but amusing when it does show up); and, my favorite, the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car." Here, Jeremy welcomes a special guest and they talk briefly, then it's off to the track with the "celebrity" setting power lap times to be compared to other "celebrities." In case you couldn't tell by my sarcastic use of quotation marks, I'm rarely wowed by the caliber of guest. To be fair I'm sure some of these faces would be more recognizable in Britain (but not much more, judging from the credentials Jeremy reels off before their introduction). The biggest name is Mark Wahlberg, but two strikes go against him: 1) he has the charisma of baking soda and 2) he was promoting Max Payne.
Whatever. Just skip past these segments when they show up and you'll get right back to the nuts and bolts of Top Gear; the trips, the challenges, the races, the four-wheel drifts, the camaraderie, the insults and the screw-ups. Great, great television.
And a nice DVD set, too! The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very attractive, and does wonders for some of the more eye-popping scenes at the salt flats and in Vietnam in particular. Extras include commentary on the Vietnam special with executive producer Andy Wilman and crew members, deleted scenes, a photo gallery and, even better, the director's cut of the Botswana special, with commentary.
Edits have been made since the original broadcast, but nothing jarring. Actually, the main change that bothered me the most was the ditching of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." in the Vietnam Special.
No-brainer here, kids. If you like cars sort of, but enjoy being entertained lots, track this excellent set down.
Not Guilty. Once again, Captain Slow approves.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 500 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Photo Gallery
* Bonus Episode