Countdowns and superlatives. There isn’t much wrong you can do with either, especially if they’re backed by awe-inspiring visuals and a clever script.
On both these counts, Discovery Travel & Living’s expertise can hardly be questioned. Its shows are consistently well-researched and lavishly produced, always entertaining and occasionally informative.
By releasing DT&L footage on CD for home-viewing, though, Shloka Publications seems to have come up with the visual equivalent of the vacuum-cleaner. There was a time when middle-class Indian homes were sold the concept of the suction tool. It didn’t take long for savvy housefraus to realize that bare floors benefited more from the long arm of the maid than a choice-of-three heads of the suction pipe. And the vacuum cleaner was relegated to the dusty corner.
The fate of this 10-CD collection may be somewhat similar. For one, there is no attempt to contextualize the footage: The content seems to be addressed to impressionable Middle American armchair travellers, not global citizens as familiar with the Alcatraz as the Acropolis. Two, some of the sequences are unquestionably dated: A brief piece on the Vatican, for instance, is illustrated by a shot of Pope John Paul II.
The US-obsessiveness of the collection, too, gets a bit jarring. The Top Ten Places to Brave Mother Nature could have compensated for its unwieldy title if it collated sites of natural disasters from across the world. It makes for some amazing footage, yes—the shots of the Alaskan avalanche and the Mavericks in the Half Moon Bay are truly awesome—but if a child sources all information on a school project from this CD, he will be shown up by someone trawling the Internet.
With titles such as the World’s Best Beaches and Bikini Blast—both conscientiously marked A—actively undermining the publishers’ claim of providing “educational content”, it is wisest to view the set as at-your-convenience entertainment. With zero expectations, America’s Haunted Hotels can be regarded as a re-creation of local legends—a plantation owner chopping off a slave girl’s ears for eavesdropping; a beautiful, abandoned wife committing suicide; an ever-hospitable hotelier couple making sure their guests are cared for some 100 years after their demise.
Interestingly, all these hotels continue to thrive: Their supernatural residents seem to exaggerate their attractions, even as the current management (or, at least, the filmed personnel—one is unsure of the vintage of the footage) cashes in on credulity.
In that context, theTop Ten Outrageous Homes has some real oh-my-god moments. A house whose basic raw material was a balloon? Natch. A dwelling in the New Mexico desert, constructed out of scrap and insulated by recycled beer bottles? That too. The 40-minute compilation of bizarre residences, while again US-focused, at least explores man’s ingenuity and gives us some glimpses of how real people live—by the lakeside, on the water, in an earthquake-prone zone, even in an all-steel piece of sculpture. Archival value? Zilch. Amusement quotient? Full marks.
Ditto for the 101 Things to Do Before You Die. For the sheer swathe of subjects that it covers, this is a CD worth a watch. You may never want to wrestle with an alligator—after all, your guide himself had his index finger chomped off—or take a Hollywood screen test, numbers 51 and 81 respectively, but you can hope to bring in the new year at Times Square (though, alas, Rudi Giuliani may not be in attendance) or visit the Serengeti plains, or even join a circus.
Packed with factoids—did you know that it costs $35,000 both to climb Mount Everest and go down to visit the Titanic on its seabed?—and arresting visuals, this show could even kindle a real desire to see places: This reviewer, for instance, had never heard of the Blue Grotto in Capri or been privy to a tea ceremony in Numazu, till she watched this CD.
But would you press the rewind button on the remote? Or even watch the CDs a second time? Probably not, especially with television’s Travel & Living channel constantly putting up newer, edgier shows.
The VCD set of 10 is available at all bookshops for Rs175.
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