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Around the world in seven episodes
on 15 January 2006
"Around the World in 80 Days" was made in 1988, and marked the start of Michael Palin's career in making travelogues for BBC television. The program was a huge success and has since been sold to many other television stations all over the world, and was released on videotape, and now on DVD. Since then five other BBC travelogues have been made with Michael Palin: "Pole to Pole", "Full Circle", "Hemingway Adventure", "Sahara" and "Himalaya". I recommend all of them, as well as the books that have been made for each trip.
In this trip Michael Palin follows roughly in the footsteps of the fictitious Phileas Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne's novel from 1872. The self-imposed rule was that airplane travel was not allowed, so the trip had to be done by train, ship, car, bus, etc.
The trip is beautifully filmed and Michael Palin's wit and charm makes it a special experience. Many different cultures and countries are experienced, and many interesting people and situations encountered.
A somewhat negative aspect is that a large portion of the travel time was aboard ships. With the exception of a dhow trip across the Arabian Sea (a high point of the entire trip) the days aboard ships were rather boring and prevented the interesting experiences that land travel would have resulted in.
This is most evident when Michael Palin disembarks from one ship in Singapore harbor at midnight and rushes through immigration and then exit processing and leaves the harbor at 2 AM to take a launch out to another ship that is waiting for him at sea just outside the harbor! He never gets to see Singapore at all, and remarks himself, "I thought I'd see the world on this trip. I can't see a thing!"
Despite the above criticism this is a great program and highly recommended.
The DVD version consists of three discs with seven 50-minute episodes, for a total of almost six hours.
One slightly unexpected thing is that the first six episodes cover the first half of the journey (London to the middle of the Pacific) while the last half of the journey is covered by a single episode. But it does actually make sense, as the last half of the journey is mostly ship travel and crossing the United States. The first half of the journey is much, much more complicated and many more countries are crossed or visited, and the first half also took many more days (58) than the last half (22).
As extra material on the DVDs there is a very interesting 18-minute interview with Michael Palin that I really liked. Among the intriguing facts that are revealed:
- Michael Palin was very flattered when the BBC contacted him and told him that he'd been selected for this program because they thought that he was exactly the right person for the job. It was only later that he discovered that he had been number four on a list of possible candidates - the first three had all declined!
- The BBC's contract with the producer was to make a program consisting of six episodes. But during the editing they became convinced that the trip across the Arabian Sea with the dhow was so fascinating that it should take up 45 minutes instead of 10 minutes in the program, and that the entire program should then be seven episodes. The BBC's initial reaction to being given seven episodes instead of six was one of ingratitude!
Highly recommended, as are all of the Michael Palin travelogues, both on DVD and as books.