Old, rich white guys attempt to fly around the world via balloon. Didn't Matlock do that once?
Around the World in 20 Days.
As people search for new things to expand the limits of human experience, one goal remained in aviation for many years. Ballooning is the earliest form of aviation, and some brave and well-financed people decided to attempt to take it farther than it had ever gone before. It took many failures before someone could so much as cross the Atlantic, let alone circumnavigate the world, but each pioneer learned from the mistakes of the last, and records continued to fall. Finally a team from Europe managed to do what no one had done before: to go around the world in a balloon. See a documentary chronicling these efforts from beginning to end in The Last Great Adventure, the three-part BBC series all on one DVD. It's interesting, informative, and is worth a look.
I was struck by both the technical and human challenges that went with such an endeavor. Though I'd paid cursory attention to the ongoing efforts to get a balloon around the world, this went into great detail about what was involved. At first the challenges were mainly technical—figuring out balloon design, how to carry the right amount of fuel, avoid thunderstorms and so on. Later the challenges seem to have become as much political as anything; with numerous countries deciding not to allow the balloons to fly over their country. Maybe they were worried about the great US balloon invasion force or something. But each attempt was fraught with tension, as they often had to worry about flying over the wrong country, and other problems en route that might just kill the crew. These balloons are carrying tons of flammable liquids after all. Going down in the ocean could well kill them before rescue teams could arrive.
I was also interested in the men who attempted such a challenge. Without exception these were white men over 40, who had already met many challenges in their lives, both in business and adventure. When sailing the oceans or climbing mountains lost their luster, some of them turned to ballooning. Others had been involved in balloons their whole careers, though they usually were crewmen who came along. Though on the surface they might seem only to be dilettantes, I admired the drive within them as they met failure and would go on to spend millions once again in another attempt.
The documentary consists of three episodes that are each nearly an hour long, which take you from the first ill-fated attempts to the final prize. There is a bit of overlap of information between episodes, though it is kept to a minimum. There is a wealth of information about the balloon designs, the people, and each attempt, both the ignominious defeats and spectacular victories.
The DVD presentation is straightforward, with each episode shown in order. The picture quality ranges from very good to just average. Some of the footage is shot with handheld cameras, and isn't up to the quality of the better shots. The worst footage was sent from the balloons during flight, but it's about what you'd expect. But if you want to see the beauty of a huge balloon flying high over the clouds or mountains, there is plenty of that to see. The sound is a typical front-loaded two-channel stereo, befitting its television origins. You can hear whatever is said, and that's all that is important.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The biggest problem with taking a television show or series and doing them on DVD is the change of pacing. A television hour is essentially a four-act play; with each act ending in some cliffhanger or suspense to keep you watching while they try to sell you soap. That feels artificial at the best of times, and is made worse when it happens in the middle of an uninterrupted hour of viewing. Or three hours of viewing. Short of re-editing the entire show, nothing can be done about it, of course, and people would gripe about the changes even if they did. So this is a minor complaint at best.
I'm not sure what sort of extra content you could have on such an information packed documentary, and apparently neither did the makers of this DVD, since there isn't any. This isn't anything unusual with this type of show, since everything you'd put in the extra features are already in the documentary. No subtitles for the hearing impaired is the single biggest flaw from the disc itself.
If the subject matter interests you, it would be well worth a rental. It would probably take a real balloon enthusiast to want to buy it outright, especially at a $29.98 retail price. I found it quite enjoyable though, and many who like some vicarious experience of adventure will as well.
Except for the lack of captions for the hard of hearing, there are no charges that could be brought. These intrepid adventurers deserved to have their story told, and it is told well. Case dismissed.
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