Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo By Any Means

I love travelogues. Not only can travel enable you to see the world, but the act of traveling itself can open your eyes to the world at its best. Done well, a travel documentary can take you on that same journey, open a window into a world past and present, and provide comfort and inspiration to those of us stuck at home. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of my favorites. This is Travelogia.

Journey Time: unknown, 2009

Countries visited: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines, Republic of China (Taiwan), Japan

So By Any Means was a great success, a rollicking good piece of adventurism with Charley Boorman and company. What could go wrong?

In the last Travelogia, I praised the technical audacity of By Any Means. Its sequel series, Right to the Edge, is a great reminder about what else made that series special, because despite its apparently higher budget– or perhaps because of it– Right to the Edge removes almost everything else that made By Any Means special. Gone is the little counter listing every mode of transport on the trip, even as said modes become even more adventurous, from dugout canoes to 1940s fighter planes. Also notably missing is that slapping intro by Jamiroquai or any amount of screentime dedicated for journey preparations, a staple of every Big Earth series up to this point.

But by far the most glaring absence is that of Russ Malkin. Taking his place as director are Samuel Simon and longtime Big Earth cinematographer Claudio von Planta, not exactly the types to spend a lot of time in front of the camera. Cinematographer Robin Shek, rounding out the skeleton crew, is almost totally invisible.

Because of this, we spend most of our time feeling alone with Charley and his thoughts. Any rapport with the crew, clash of personality, dad jokes, all of it has been stripped away, and what we’re left with is a fairly mediocre piece of entertainment. More than any other series I’ve reviewed so far, the destinations make the series.

Five Stars: As always, Japan is one of the highlights, particularly this series’ focus on Okinawa, the rural east, and a jaunt on a fishing boat where Charley gets to catch a fish and then immediately eat it as sashimi. The biggest surprise is in Taiwan though, a country that seems to get little attention in the way of tourism. There, Charley gets children to eat deep fried crickets, is served a stomach-churning array of reptile genital-infused alcohol, and goes racing underground with a mysterious Canadian expatriate known only as M13.

One Star: By far the weakest chapter in Charley’s Pacific Rim expedition is the first. Having already seen the wonders of the Australian outback and bush, our heroes now travel north to experience the transcendent joy of…ute-driving bogans. Also he gets crazy airsick in an old man’s Spitfire. Indonesia is more frustrating than anything else– such are the pitfalls of national security that the only ways in or out of that country are by commercial jet, which rather defeats the purpose.

Next Time: Michael Palin returns to bum us out in retrospect with 2012’s Brazil.