After catching an episode of Long Way Down over the summer, I was intrigued and wanted to see the entire thing. Much to my surprise, I learned that this wasn’t the first motorcycle trip DVD made by buddies Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.
Ewan McGregor? That’s right. We’re talking Obi-Wan Kenobi here. Charley and Ewan met on the set of a film and became best friends. With the both of them being motorcycle enthusiasts, Ewan gets the idea for an adventure where the two men will head east through Russia to bike from London to New York.
Long Way Round opens showing Ewan at various premiers on the red carpet as well as promotional appearances on the Tonight Show. It introduces not just Ewan and Charley, but the crew that will be filming them on their trip as well. Okay, maybe they really didn’t need to introduce Ewan but other than what I saw on that one episode, I had no idea who Charley Boorman was. He could have been a childhood friend for all I knew.
The planning that went into the trip is incredible. It’s not like they just packed up a bunch of gear and headed off. Now, it’s hard to fathom to those who live here in the United States that there’s a lot more involved in this trip than first appears. I mean, I could jump in my car or on a motorcycle and pretty much drive in a straight line for five days without needing a passport. This trip was going to be 20,000 miles through 12 countries and take 115 days. Going just from London around Europe involves crossing numerous borders. Ewan and Charley chose not to take a direct route, but one that would take them through various countries that interested them. The prep time seemed to take almost as long as the trip itself.
There is a ton of support on a trip like this. Ewan and Charley have a cameraman with them along with cameras in their helmets and diary-cams they are supposed to keep up with. In addition, there are two support vehicles following about a day behind them and meeting up as they cross borders.
It’s not until the second episode that we actually get to see some footage of their travels. It takes them three days to get to Prague. On the way to Slovakia, they stop at the Church of Bones, which is a very unique place. In the Ukraine, they really feel like they have stepped back in time. People still work the fields by hand with rakes and animals pulling a plow. Once in Kiev, they meet with UNICEF and the children of Chernobyl. This was sobering.
When they move into Kazakhstan, they are greeted warmly at the border. However, conditions soon deteriorate and the roads they are on are not only unpaved but seem to be chewed up beyond belief. They also seem to be getting police escorts wherever they go. At first, Ewan and Charley don’t like the idea of having the escorts. However, once they ride alone and have a handgun pointed at them, they have a different feeling toward having an escort.
Mongolia also presents a set of challenges to the team as they have some of the biggest trials of the trip here, including what could have been a devastating accident. The goal of making it back into Russia and traveling the Road of Bones is achieved. Next, they jet over to Alaska and immerse themselves back in civilization to a degree before continuing across Canada and the northern tier of the U.S. until they arrive in New York City.
Much of the scenery shown is stunning. The cameraman manages to capture the scenic vistas as well as the different cities and towns they pass through. I would have probably liked to have seen more footage of Charley and Ewan acting like tourists, but it is pretty good and doesn’t bog down with long boring stretches. The only time I thought there was any drag was in the first episode with all the preparation.
It’s amazing to watch them take chances and have faith in people and have it pay off. One time they follow someone to a hotel, expecting at any moment to be waylaid and robbed, and end up in a very nice place. Another time they are invited to someone’s home and find a beautiful place amid the countryside where someone lives quite well-off.
Even with all of the preparation, things don’t always go smoothly. Issues they have include getting the carnet stamped for all their very expensive equipment at each border crossing between countries. At one point Charley forgets and when they go to cross into the next country, they have an issue. At another crossing, having photocopies of the vehicle registrations rather than the originals is an issue. At one point Ewan’s eyes get sprayed while he and Charley are fueling up, nearly ending the trip. Mongolia proves to be a trial as the country is rougher than they ever imagined and their progress is terribly slow. The wear and tear take a toll on the bikes and there are no repair shops conveniently nearby most of the time, meaning they have to solve problems with a bit of ingenuity.
The people they meet are what make the trip incredible. Some of them recognize Ewan, but the majority have no clue who he is and still treat them like visiting royalty. I loved this aspect of the series and thought seeing the people in the different countries was a real treat.
There’s a special edition of Long Way Round I haven’t been able to locate that includes much more footage, and I would have liked that a lot. If anything, I felt like I didn’t see enough of their trip. The preparation is interesting, but after a while, I just wanted to skip it. I had the idea already – it’s a very involved production. There is more footage in the extras on this set, but from what I understand in the special edition there are almost three more entire episodes.
The personalities are great as well. Even for this dedicated Star Wars fan, Ewan McGregor manages to become much more than Obi-Wan Kenobi and after a while, I saw him as a person rather than his character. I think this production goes a long way to showing just how human the actors on the silver screen are as well.
Anyone who’s a motorcycling enthusiast will love this. Travelers will enjoy it as well as this is a unique trip. I found it interesting all the way around and it’s something on my list now of must-haves for my DVD collection. It’s just about flawless except for the fact that I would have liked less time on the preparation and more views of what it was like traveling. I would also recommend finding the set that contains ten episodes of the series rather than the more common one that only has seven.
• Photo Gallery
• Trip Preparation
• The First Five Days
• “I Just Can’t Do It”
• Glacier Plane Ride
• Wrong Way Round
• Post Trip Interview
• UNICEF Information
Categories: Movie Reviews
A great and thorough review! I believe that I have seen a little of this or certainly some motorbike trek they did together. Before this, I only really knew of Charley Boorman thanks to his dad!
They did two of them. The second one was down through Europe and Africa. I’ll get around to that one soon (no pun intended)!