Long Way Down David Alexanian and Russ Malkin

Long Way Down David Alexanian and Russ Malkin
Fantasy palavers often cover "if we were rich and famous..." terrain. Here's a good contribution to the discussion: "if we were rich and famous, we could go on a transcontinental motorcycle trip and turn it into a documentary television series." That's the premise of Long Way Down, sort of. The ten-part documentary follows actors/friends/motorcyclists Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Star Wars Episodes I, II, III) and Charley Boorman, along with a support crew, from the top of the UK to the bottom of Africa. A follow-up to 2004's Long Way Round, in which the two went from London to New York, it's a surprisingly in-depth tale that focuses on friendship, travel and Africa (yeah, it's a big topic), and only occasionally mentions fame. A survey course on Africa, the series briskly covers three months spent in 18 countries. Time constraints never let it delve too deeply into socio-political debates, though that isn't the point. Working in partnership with UNICEF, it frequently sheds light on socio-political and health-related strife, yet never resorts to didacticism. McGregor and Boorman spend most of their non-driving time talking with locals - a parade of interesting de facto guest stars - and seeing sights (i.e., the Great Pyramids, a Gorilla reserve, etc.). The hosts' earnest curiosity and admitted naïveté make for a compelling, non-traditional travel guide. Furthermore, the interplay between the gruffly charming Boorman and the exuberant McGregor is playful, humorous and highly watchable. Throughout, McGregor's celebrity and wealth are utilitarian concerns. They ease certain difficulties and provide the occasional creature comfort (and Presidential audience), though never dominate the narrative. Traditional dramatic tension is minimal and usually manufactured (i.e., Charley's doing too many wheelies, Ewan's wife wants to join them for part of the trip, etc.). Unlike most reality television series, Long Way Down avoids interpersonal clashes, turning the cameras off during the singular falling out. However, like most picaresque stories the draw is diversity of experiences and this one has plenty. Extras include obligatory deleted scenes - all rightly trimmed - and complementary documentary Missing Faces. The latter takes a moving, highly personal look at the AIDS crisis, thoroughly supplementing a concern only touched on in the main doc. It's an educational and inspiring addition. (EMI)