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Himalaya marks the sixth televised international journey by the former Monty Python man, Michael Palin. Previous treks have included 'Around the World in 80 Days', the Pacific Rim and a perilous journey through the Sahara desert. There are many people who will only recognise Palin for his exploits as a comedian, but in recent years his BBC1 series has become big business. Each series is normally accompanied by audio books, CDs, books and of course a DVD.  

Himalaya With Michael Palin
Michael’s 2000 mile trek through the Himalayas started in Afghanistan and involved some of the most intimidating surroundings that he has visited. In the first episode Michael is seen sitting by the Afghan border and he is clearly edgy which is not surprising considering the Taliban were reported to be in hiding close to where he was filming. Next up, Michael visited Pakistan where he was introduced to various gun making stall owners. While in Pakistan he also visits the local dentist where he was shown the tools used for having a tooth removed! Palin’s sense of humour is evident throughout which makes for some amusing moments.

The rest of his journey involved trips through India to the feared Death Zone near the base of Mount Everest and then onto the Bhutanese capital before arriving in the Bay of Bengal. Michael even has time to fit in a few days in Tibet where he learns about the cultural differences and internal conflicts. Along the way he also meets various people in authority, including the Dalai Lama, the Bhutanese Royal Family and the once feared head hunting tribe of the Konyak. The meeting with the Dalai Lama is probably one of my favourite moments of the series; it is amazing how approachable the world leader was, he also seemed really down to earth and laughed at every opportunity.

I stumbled upon Himalaya on TV one Sunday evening while I was swapping channels looking for something to watch. I was aware of the show, but to be honest the concept had never really appealed. I think it was probably a matter of pride; I considered his previous shows to be targeted at older audiences such as my father’s generation and so wouldn’t watch them on principle. The notion of someone walking around various places didn’t really appeal, and frankly sounded quite boring! Within ten minutes of watching Himalaya it was obvious that my perception of the show was totally wrong.

Himalaya With Michael Palin
The reason for the show’s success has to be placed firmly at the feet of Mr Palin. He is charming, energetic, enthusiastic, and has a natural way with people. Wherever he goes, he embraces the surroundings and puts his all into communicating with the locals, even if they don’t speak a word of English! Palin is a likeable chap who seems to be able to mix comedy with highly informative moments. I was surprised to hear that he is over sixty; and I can only hope that I am that active and jolly when I’m his age! Himalaya is a riveting documentary which tackles religion, history, geography and lifestyles. There are not many shows which can boast such an impressive range of topics while remaining hugely entertaining. It’s easy to see why Michael Palin has built up a huge fan base and his shows are met with huge anticipation. If you are looking for some thought provoking, light humoured entertainment which also allows you to visit places like Everest while sitting in the comfort of your own living room, then look no further. The BBC has an impressive reputation for producing quality documentaries and Himalaya is an example of what the BBC do best, you would be foolish to miss it!    

Video
The BBC have presented Himalaya with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This transfer is very similar to the presentation on TV, apart from a little more clarity that seemed to be evident on this DVD. Colours were lifelike and the beautiful scenery is accurately portrayed. Skin tones were also true and blacks had a deep tone. Compression artefacts were never an issue and edge enhancements did not seem to be evident. There is not much else to say about this release; as documentaries go this is probably one of the most visually impressive that you will see this year.  

Audio
Just the one soundtrack with the release, but suffice to say that is perfectly adequate. The track in question is an English Dolby Digital Stereo track that does everything you could ask of it. The only aspect that matters is the dialogue levels and fortunately the BBC have done a brilliant job of keeping the level audible throughout. Palin’s voice is clear and precise during the whole six hours. I normally have lots to say about the technical aspects of a disc but I am struggling to say much more. I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about the soundtrack on this disc, so I guess that is the biggest compliment I can pay it! Subtitles are also available in English.

Himalaya With Michael Palin
Extras
On paper the extras for this release look pretty feeble, but don’t let that put you off. Upon inserting the first disc you will find a Pre-trip Interview with Michael Palin which as the title suggests was filmed before he set off on his adventure. During this 3 minute clip you get to hear of Michael’s doubts about the journey; he gives a very detailed description of the trip and also expresses his fears about visiting certain countries. It is clear from this extra that he gets a great deal of joy from travelling and hopefully this won’t be the last show he does.

For anyone who has read the book you will know that there is only so much that the editing team can fit into a six hour series. Probably my favourite extras on this disc are the Deleted Scenes which are found on each of the discs. Each programme has its own set of extras which can be viewed individually or as one long clip. Overall there are forty two deleted scenes which spread across the whole journey. There are too many to mention in this review but there are some really interesting scenes. If you are a fan of the show then you cannot miss these deleted scenes. Heading up the list of extras is a Post-trip Interview with Michael Palin. This interview starts with Michael talking about the troubles he encountered during the trip and in particular he focuses on the altitude sickness from which he suffered during his ascent to the base of Everest. He then moves onto talking about the political problems he came across and in particular talks about how he was advised not to go to Pakistan. There is also an interesting section about the scenes with the Dalai Lama. This is a very thorough extra which covers most aspects of the show. This extra lasts for twenty minutes.

Himalaya With Michael Palin
Overall
A couple of friends have mentioned that while Himalaya is very good, it doesn’t quite live up to the standards of Palin’s previous shows. All I can say to that is I can’t wait to watch his previous work! There is no doubt that Michael Palin is an expert at producing interesting and hugely entertaining travel documentaries. He obviously enjoys travelling and his persona means that people warm to him wherever he goes. I never thought I would be so hooked on a documentary; either I am getting really old or Himalaya is a brilliant show. I’m sure there is a hint of old age, but I have no doubt that Himalaya is a cut above the rest.

Onto the DVD itself, and the BBC have produced a 3 disc box set which will keep you engrossed from start to finish. The transfer and audio aspects are hardly spectacular but they are perfectly respectable, while the extras could be described as quality rather than exhaustive. I have no hesitation in recommending this title because it will make an ideal Christmas present for many people.

Note: It is worth noting that while this is the region 2 release, the cover states that it will also play on region 4 machines.


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