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Case Number 19224: Small Claims Court

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Last Chance To See

BFS Video // 2009 // 354 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // July 6th, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants to adopt a kakapo.

The Charge

"The greatest mass extinction the world has ever seen is happening right now. Human activity is causing it, and human activity alone can put it right."
Stephen Fry

Opening Statement

"I like my creature comforts rather more than I like my creatures," Stephen Fry says early on in Last Chance to See. Even he says, "Damn good question!" when discussing why he took on the job of traveling the world in search of endangered animals for the six-part documentary.

The answer, of course, is that Douglas Adams is no longer around to do it. The late author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy also co-wrote the nonfiction book, Last Chance To See in the late '80s with zoologist Mark Carwardine. Adams never got around to doing the TV version of his book on endangered species, but Fry, a longtime friend of Adams who voiced The Book in the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, was available. Thus, Fry started off with Carwardine in search of blue whales, northern white rhinos, and the like.

Facts of the Case

Fry notes at one point that it would take nearly 163 years to cover all the endangered animals, one a week, in a TV series. There may be a second season later, but this batch has only six episodes, each of which focuses on one rare species:

• "Amazonian Manatee"
Dolphins turn up to say, "Hello," but don't add the famous refrain, "So long and thanks for all the fish." Fry and Carwardine are on hand as one manatee begins his return to the wild. Fry doesn't get very far, thanks to a broken arm.

• "Northern White Rhino"
As they see Uganda, Kenya, and the war-torn Congo, Fry and Carwardine visit gorillas, accompanied by armed guards. They also see elephants and black rhinos, but no northern white rhinos. Fry is kept out of a wildlife preserve by a cold.

• "Aye-Aye"
Fry and Carwardine see a lot of assorted lemurs before they see the rare aye-aye in Madagascar. They also find that a commercial crop used in making recyclable packaging means there are a lot fewer trees. The aye-aye is said to be bad luck, but I'll note that the worst of Fry's misfortunes came before the accursed encounter.

• "Komodo Dragon"
Fry and Carwardine take a muddy bath, try durian fruit, and steal eggs from a sea turtle before tracking down the komodo dragon. Fry worries, having seen this newspaper headline: "Man killed by komodo dragons."

• "Kakapo"
New Zealand makes for "a really nice comfortable adventure," although Carwardine gets a few scratches in his encounter with Sirocco, an "imprinted" kakapo, or landbound parrot. A dog helps Fry and Carwardine find some kiwis, who are also landbound birds.

• "Blue Whale"
Miss Baja California South joins Carwardine for a swim to measure a shark. Fry and Carwardine also see glowing algae and some Humboldt squid, perhaps "the most perfect killing machine in the water." Naturally, they let someone else handle the squid.

The Evidence

At first, Stephen Fry might seem like the wrong sort of host for a show like this. He's always complaining, and he wheezes when he's doing anything remotely strenuous. At times, he sits back and watches Mark Carwardine do the risky or athletic stuff. Fry constantly reminds viewers that most of these remote places are now connected to civilization by cell phones, and he keeps a spare to make damn sure of it. When Fry says of chimps, "They haven't yet invented mobile phones—or broadband," Fry's considering them a lower life form for it. Douglas Adams, on the other hand, would have praised them for passing up the cell phone and considered them a rival in intelligence to the dolphins in his Hitchhiker's novels.

As the show goes on, Fry proves himself exactly the right sort of host. It's not his book, so he gives the project a sort of observer's distance, all the while quipping and griping to make sure viewers never overdose on earnestness. Despite being a self-described coward, Fry has a good rapport with Carwardine, keeping the expert in good spirits as well. Fry occasionally goes for profundity, but he's much livelier than you'd expect for a narrator on a show about endangered species.

At one point in the series, Carwardine points out that success stories are valuable to conservationists. Last Chance to See has its share: reintegrating a manatee into the wild or a kakapo baby boom, for example. Not everything's happy—the northern white rhino might be extinct, as are the Yangtze River dolphins that Adams saw when he wrote his book—but it's an optimistic show. It also helps, in one episode, that those kakapos are so adorable; I can see why Adams' original book helped conservation efforts. Heck, Cesar Millan might abandon canines to become The Kakapo Whisperer if he saw that episode.

The graphics sequences, which feature rare animals popping out of a globe to Fry's narration, have the feel of something you'd see in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, if it's actually in use somewhere out near Betelgeuse. It's a cool bonus for Adams fans, even if these parts tend to be the serious ones.

Everything looks sharp in high-definition filming, whether in the cities or out in the jungle. There's a jumble of ambient noise in some diary type sequences Carwardine did, but the sound is mostly well-handled throughout, blending natural sound with music and Fry's wry narration and whispered asides.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Extras are nonexistent; text features and photos or drawings of some of the rarities would have probably helped viewers, in the likely instance that they missed something while laughing at Fry's witticisms.

Closing Statement

This combination of travelogue, nature lesson, and conservation plea, stirred with a bit of humor, is done perfectly. Even if you prefer creature comforts to creatures as much as Fry does, you could be drawn in.

The Verdict

Not guilty. So long and thanks for saving the kakapos.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: BFS Video
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 354 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Foreign
• Science and Nature
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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