Judge Kerry Birmingham takes several minutes to figure out 38 Down in this week's World's Most Amazing Crossword Puzzles!
It's right there in the title: The world's most amazing videos.
Whether it's a symptom of society, something ingrained in human nature, or a mixture of the two, we love watching horrible things happen to people we don't know. Removed from anything personal or anything approaching actual human sympathy, the voyeuristic thrill of watching really terrible things happen to people who aren't us can be as innocuous as watching a cat fall off a television set with narration by Bob Saget (truly the Golden Age of the genre) to the top-this gross-outs of Fear Factor and any number of websites.
Best of all for the producers of such lowest-common-denominator dreck, it's cheap to produce and requires little to no investment from the audience, making it ideal for casual viewing. The audience has little interest, and so do the creators: stuff like World's Most Amazing Videos is about as formulaic and empty a television exercise as you're likely to find. Assembled from home video and news footage, Most Amazing ties footage of various brushes with death-natural disasters, vehicular accidents, stunts gone awry-together into vaguely thematically related blocks (that theme being: Man, that guy should totally be dead right now.) The formula is just this simple: Late voiceover king Don LaFontaine introduces all the clips you're about to see along with teaser footage; veteran character actor Stacy Keach narrates the necessary back story; we see the "amazing video" happen, almost always somebody not being horribly killed; Keach's voice returns to explain what went wrong as the most sensationalistic bits of footage are played over and over again. Often the survivors will appear on camera to talk about how they cheated death, were extremely lucky, and will/won't continue to do the thing that left them with medical bills to begin with.
This formula repeats without deviation through the five episodes included here, resulting in nearly three and a half hours of people running, jumping, exploding, falling, or otherwise evading death. The voiceovers and editing do manage to provide a palpable element of drama, and the frequent on-camera interviews from the survivors, never looking the worse for wear, keep things from seeming like a Grand Guignol snuff film or Faces of Death (that and the lack of reenactments. And Dr. Gross). LaFontaine provides urgency; Keach provides gravity. That's the sole advantage that Most Amazing has over the approximately 800 billion websites that offer similarly grotesque footage; add in some lousy skateboarders biffing it on the pavement and a few Jackass wannabes and it would otherwise be indistinguishable from YouTube.
Perhaps appropriately for a patchwork TV program like this, this no-frills DVD is just as slapdash, with no extra features to speak of. The whole enterprise is a bit suspect, a cheap show issued as a cheap DVD. The videos are indeed pretty amazing; special effects may desensitize us, but there's no topping the real thing playing out on camera. Even granting that, there's no real conceivable reason to own or even rent World's Most Amazing Videos—threateningly subtitled "Volume One"—when the same kind of vicarious thrills can be found with any decent internet connection or by turning on any random, undiscerning basic cable channel. When you can find your disasters as cheap as free, material like World's Most Amazing Videos makes a case for discarding the cheap and going for the free.
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