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This is the 6th Annual Gumball Rally, an illegal street-race that involves nearly two hundred cars and covers some three thousand miles across six countries and two continents. Starting at the Eiffel Tower, the route takes them down through France and to Spain and then by boat to Africa, across Africa and back up via Spain to France, and ending in Cannes at the Film Festival. The participants include everybody from celebrities, like Adrien Brody and Jodie Kidd, to project managers and even a couple of modern-day Easy Rider-style travellers on bikes. The cars range from Ferraris and Porsches to HumVees and SUVs, with even a Citroen 2CV thrown into the mix. It is a furious race that lasts some three days and leaves the drivers elated but exhausted, but does it convert well to DVD format? Is it a viewer’s sport?

Gumball 3000 - 6 Days In May (2004)
The film itself is basically a montage of interviews and racing snippets from this gruelling challenge but the main focus is on a pair of racers, pro skateboarder Rob Drydek and celebrity bodyguard Big Black. These two characters talk us through a great deal of the journey, commenting on other people’s driving and both criticising and complimenting their own choice of vehicle—a BMW X5. Through them we get a fairly average look at the proceedings: we see them have a relatively good time but not wholeheartedly glorifying the Need for Speed. They are a charismatic duo, who generally have fun but avoid taking too many risks. But through them we get to observe some of the other drivers roaring around, including some pretty hairy stunts. Undertaking on the hard shoulder on the wrong side of the road has to be the single most dangerous piece of driving that I have ever seen done by a driver who was not being chased by the law.

Taking it at its most positive, we see a Porsche doing fifteen successive doughnuts, a modified BMW with a propane tank erupting flames from its exhausts and speedometers hitting 240 km/h (in Africa where they cleared the roads). Police are bribed and when that does not work some of the more cautious—or just sneaky—drivers evade the checkpoints rather than try to outrun the cops (which one foolish driver does, even in the knowledge that the cops are holding his passport)!

Now, I like cars and I like driving, and sometimes I cringe at the restrictions imposed by speed limits and speed bumps, but a documentary like this is probably more of an example of why we have laws against dangerous driving than an advert for participating in the Gumball. After it is all over, at best we see people shattered at having to drive ludicrously fast for extended periods of time, while at worst we see accidents actually take place and battered cars left by the wayside. It can’t be that much fun—none of them describe it as such—although admittedly passing over the finish line must be an amazing relief. Unfortunately, as a documentary it is just not that captivating. Perhaps it is just impossible to capture three days of two hundred cars driving across countries, all in little over an hour of film. Perhaps it is an exercise in futility anyway: there is no point in trying to give the viewer a taste of what the Gumball would be like because it is not the kind of thing that works as a spectator sport.

Gumball 3000 - 6 Days In May (2004)
Either way I think that this documentary is of limited value to all but perhaps those who have actually participated in this endurance race. It is a shame because I thought—mistakenly—that this could have been much more of an adventure. Think Easy Rider on four wheels. Unfortunately it is far from an adventure, it is just a collage of almost unrelated events—some mildly amusing—featuring rich spoilt brats driving dangerously for fun. It is like Jackass in cars, but at least in Jackass they tended to only risk injury to themselves.

The video quality is generally quite poor on this release. Although presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio transfer that has supposedly been enhanced for widescreen televisions, this documentary looks little better than those camcorder jobs they send in to You’ve Been Framed. I guess that this is mainly because the footage has been taken from the cameras on-board the cars themselves, but that does not make it easier viewing. The picture is often soft, with little detail, but even in the clearer, more focussed shots there is significant grain present. The colours are quite bright and vibrant but seldom look wholly realistic—sometimes looking faded and sometimes not being representative of the colours that they are intended to be (check out the interview footage towards the end for a prime example of this). It is the kind of quality that you would expect from this sort of production, but that does not make it any less unprofessional and almost amateurish.

Gumball 3000 - 6 Days In May (2004)
Gumball 3000 is presented with a below average Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is, again, what you would really expect for this material. The dialogue is always—as you would expect—impaired by the overbearing sounds of the engines, and the only true clarity comes during some of the quieter interviews. There are several music tracks used to back the escapades, and these provide the only decent use of the speakers, although they never quite envelop you in the proceedings. There is little positive to say about this track but it is not wholly disappointing when you consider the material.

First up we get a rather pointless ‘Sped Up’ feature, which plays the entire main film in fast-forward (with sped up sound), compressing it down to four minutes. I cannot see why anyone would ever want this facility.

Then we get a couple of interviews. There is a five minute interview montage with Adrien Brody in Marrakech and at the end in Cannes bragging about his racing, talking about his lack of sleep and the different treatment by the cops in the different countries. And there is a six minute interview with one of the organisers, Maximillion, who sums up the whole journey and the point of the rally and how people get to act like kids for the week. He is certainly the more monotonous of the two.

Next we get a ‘Driving Montage’ where we get a four-way split-screen montage of sped-up racing footage from different parts of the race. Again, this seems of limited value. ‘Route Cards’ is a slideshow of the official Gumball postcards, which runs at a little over two minutes in length, displaying both sides of about twenty-five postcards. We also get the movie poster, the thirty-second television trailer (that pretty-much sums up the endeavour) and a five minute theatrical trailer that actually includes some interesting footage that never made it to the final cut.

Gumball 3000 - 6 Days In May (2004)
Really, it is difficult to sell Gumball 3000 as a feature film, or even as an interesting documentary. If you want fast cars driving fast then you would be better off watching a live race or a decent movie. If you want to get into the spirit of the Gumball, you would probably have to participate. This provides neither, but it does give a mishmash video diary that will be of particular interest to those couple of hundred who did actually take part. The video presentation is distinctly sub-standard and the audio is barely adequate, but it is probably perfectly fine for the material. There are also a bunch of extras, most of which seem completely pointless and gimmicky, much like the endeavour itself.