Can two guys blowing things up be entertaining? Appellate Judge James A. Stewart investigates a TV legend.
Our review of Mythbusters: Collection 4, published May 6th, 2009, is also available.
"This is like the world's most dangerous cooking show."
"Please don't try anything you're about to see us do at home."
Since I can't remember the last time I tried to dynamite a cement truck, build a steam engine machine gun, or even swallow Diet Coke and Mentos together, I didn't really need that warning. Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage still need to give it, because they're into some really dangerous stuff. Self-hypnosis tapes, for example.
Jamie and Adam, in case you don't know, are the hosts of Mythbusters. Their job is to test urban legends, Internet rumors, news stories, movie stunts, ad claims, and just about anything to see whether it can be done and how it happened. They've got a crack team of assistants—at first, Kari Byron, Scottie Chapman, and Tory Belleci; later on, Grant Imahara, Kari, and Tory—to help them.
Often, what the job entails is building things and keeping going until they blow them up. That's the theme of Mythbusters: Big Blasts Collection, a set of episodes taken from various points in the series' run. Is this set a big blast, or is it busted?
Facts of the Case
Mythbusters: Big Blasts Collection contains 10 episodes on two discs:
• "Exploding Port-a-Potty": Can human beings generate enough methane to build up and blow up a portable toilet? Can a broken drive shaft send a car pole vaulting through the air?
• "Exploding Pants": What farm materials common in the 1930s were responsible for a New Zealand incident of exploding trousers? Is there a "miracle cure" that can get you better gas mileage?
• "Air Cylinder Rocket": Can an air cylinder rocket through a concrete wall? Can gunpowder power an engine?
• "Exploding Lighter": What causes lighter explosions? Could gunslingers really: do a quick draw; shoot a hole in a silver dollar; shoot down a hangman's noose?
• "Exploding Water Heater": Can your water heater shoot like a rocket? If a horse drags you along the ground will your jeans catch fire? Will tight jeans, when wet, shrink enough to kill?
• "Confederate Steam Gun": Could steam power a machine gun? Can Grant, Tory, and Kari beat the lie detector?
• "James Bond Special 1": "I think it's good that we get this chance to Bond," Adam Savage says, before the team investigates some pressing questions: Can an electromagnetic watch deflect a bullet? Will one bullet explode a propane tank? Can a speed boat just keep going after a spectacular leap?
• "James Bond Special 2": Can an exploding ballpoint pen rip a person in half? Will a bowler hat blade decapitate a statue? Would Jaws' metal mouth cut through a thick cable?
How do you start reviewing Mythbusters, a show that revels in extreme tests? I started with the extreme test of powerwatching, slamming down three episodes in a row. At first, the tests and blasts, backed by banter from Adam and Jamie, were fun, but this stuff got to be tedious around the third episode. Busted!
Not so fast, though. The episodes here are taken from multiple seasons. Somewhere along the line, Mythbusters made a big change. No, I'm not talking about the fact that the later episodes are about six minutes shorter. What they did, apparently, was gradually make the team a bigger part of the action. The reckless style of Adam and Jamie, two smart, jaded special effects veterans with a weird edge, was leavened with Tory's goofy bumbling, Grant's nervousness, and Kari's sarcasm. The ensemble works well together, taking away the monotony and making the show livelier. This show's success is starting to look a lot more plausible now. If you have any doubts, check out the viewer input at the Mythbusters site.
However, as Mythbusters: Big Blasts Collection, this set has a disadvantage over a season set, which would show a wider variety of Mythbusters explorations. It guarantees big blasts—even if the myth's a bust, they'll blow up something—but anything else is incidental. When you see how much fun the team has in testing self-hypnosis tapes, it's obvious that, for many viewers, a season set will be a better choice. Still, it's plausible that you'll love this set, if you haven't already bought the seasons and you love big blasts.
How's the picture? It's got the good, sharp widescreen images of a recent show, so it's ready for the digital era. Confirmed!
Does a Mythbusters set provide extras—behind-the-scenes looks, outtakes, and so forth—to add to the viewing experience? No. Busted!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Watching Mythbusters in bulk, you gradually realize that intentionally recreating a freak accident or unusual set of conditions is kind of absurd. Even if you get the results—like an exploding toilet—the outcome doesn't necessarily prove much. Anything will explode if you keep throwing everything you've got at it long enough. The show's still fun, and the absurdity does teach you to think twice about anything you see or hear.
It's also an ego boost to go to the show's site and find out that I could be a Mythbuster. At least it is until they do a show testing whether online interactive quizzes are really meaningful and accurate.
If you're thinking of popping a disc into your DVD player and watching five of these in a row, don't try it at home. Ever. Mythbusters fails the extreme test of powerwatching. However, you aren't a DVD reviewer. If you buy a Mythbusters set, you have the luxury of watching over a few days or weeks or even months. When you take these one at a time, they're a lot more fun.
Moreover, the set obviously has a very specific target audience: Mythbusters fans who really, really like big blasts. If that's you, go for it. If not, look into other sets or check out a few episodes on TV first.
This set didn't create as big a bang as expected, but it's plausible. The appeal of Mythbusters, on the other hand, is confirmed. I'm still waiting to see the Mythbusters team do a cooking show.
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