Men and the art of motorcycle maintenance
Long Way Round rides from London to New York and now to DVD
A glamorous celebrity and his goofy best pal take off on a 20,000-mile motorcycle-adventure-cum-unscripted-series. If you missed Long Way Round in 2004, you're not alone, but you are in luck.
Ewan McGregor and his mate Charley Boorman's insatiable wanderlust and love of two-wheeling spawned an outrageous (and outrageously telegenic) idea: London to New York, the so-called long way round. That is, ride east from London, through Central and Eastern Europe, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia and China, hop a plane to Alaska, cruise through Canada and zip through the U.S. to New York.
Long Way Round originally aired on Bravo in October 2004 and, with McGregor's star power, and the unique set-up, ought to have been a megahit. Instead, because of poor promotion and erratic scheduling, Long Way Round never really took off. Its DVD release is a welcome chance to catch this epic, fascinating adventure.
McGregor and Boorman made the trek with a sometimes-seen cameraman (Claudio von Planta, also on motorcycle) and a "support team" of producers, a doctor, occasional guides and additional camera crews following in vans a day behind the trio. The show evokes the terrifying isolation of much of the trip. The desolate terrain of the Mongolian wilderness and the vast expanses of the Russian countryside are characters on the show as much as McGregor and Boorman.
Long Way Round distinguishes itself from most celebrity fare with tense storytelling and utterly charming lead players. McGregor and Boorman are the most genuine and hilarious tour guides we've ever seen. Both cry from frustration and exhaustion, choke down regional foods with all the politeness they can muster (Boorman can't swallow a boiled goat testicle, sadly), and joke and tease their way across continents. The DVD includes lots of unaired material, and the uncut versions are bursting with foul—and funny—language and the occasional bare ass. Yes, you've seen McGregor's butt before, but now it's up close and covered with mosquito bites.
The silly antics lighten a sometimes burdensome show. As the team travels through extremely undeveloped areas of Mongolia, McGregor has the predictable if emotional small-world epiphany that many a study-abroad student has experienced: We're all the same deep down. Still, McGregor's realization is heartfelt and organic where other celebrity travelogues seem nauseatingly rehearsed because he's so emotionally invested in the people he meets. When Boorman and McGregor go to various UNICEF outposts in the nations they visit, both are visibly moved, and it's impossible not to share that enthusiasm and respect.
The DVD set includes seven episodes, whereas the broadcast version had only six. Producers added additional footage and recut the six original episodes into an exceptionally enjoyable and engrossing series. McGregor has talked about plans for a "long way down" trip and series, riding from London south through Africa, which we can only hope will be as thrilling and wonderful as Long Way Round.
Long Way Round loads up and rolls out Tuesday 13 from Goldhil Entertainment ($19.98).