Film Length: approx. 540 minutes
Aspect Ratio:enhanced 1.78:1
In my alter ego as a professional musician, I once had occasion to provide literal background music for a well-known magician. I say literal background music because I was upstage of the magic man, behind him, and thus was party to observing all manner of things those in the audience couldn’t see, things like guide wires for “floating” cards, hidden drawers and secret compartments in various props that you would swear couldn’t be there, and so on and so on. It really took the “magic” out of the act, sadly. I imagine regular viewers of Man vs. Wild may have experienced something like that last year when it was revealed that host Bear Grylls wasn’t actually surviving the various elements in rugged he-man style, but was, in fact, on occasion hunkering down in various luxury hotel suites overnight, and also benefiting from his staff bringing him various foodstuffs to eat. I guess perhaps the show in a fit of truth in advertising could rename itself Man vs. Hilton or Man vs. Caterer.
Despite a certain disillusionment that some viewers may have experienced with those revelations, the fact is Man vs. Wild does show Grylls as a uniquely daring and adventurous host who personably guides the viewer through various exotic locales, each of which offers various obstacles to overcome in order to survive. While there’s a little ingenuousness to the show’s very concept (how many viewers are ever going to find themselves lost in the frozen wastelands of Patagonia?), if you are willing to go with that premise, you’re in for an invigorating, if sometimes stomach-turning, adventure.
Grylls evidently knows little if any fear (despite his self-confessed aversion to bats, which he encounters in one episode). This is an incredibly athletic host who doesn’t think twice about scaling down a waterfall (in the water, no less) or doing backflips off of dense swamp trees, landing effortlessly in knee-deep water. Some of Grylls’ other exploits will leave some viewers cringing in horror. I for one could not bear to watch him slice open a dead camel in order not only to burrow himself inside the corpse to relieve himself from the intense Saharan heat, but to also eat fecal material. Grylls’ dietary choices are a running gag (literally) on the show, as he calmly chops the heads off everything from vipers to crabs to grubs and then happily munches them down.
Grylls, who learned his stuff in British Army Special Forces, makes the most of each ostensible hurdle he needs to overcome, all with a cheekiness that only occasionally belies the fact that the show obviously includes pre-scouting and actual scripting. When he builds a raft that doesn’t quite make it across a frozen tundra lake, returning to warm himself by a fire he had already started as a “back up plan,” it may cross some viewers’ minds that the whole thing was pre-planned. That doesn’t keep the experience from being viscerally exciting and informational. Grylls does in fact attempt to impart scientific facts not only about survival skills but also about the various locations in which he finds himself.
If some of the magic of Man vs. Wild has been slightly tarnished due to the revelations that all is not what it seemed, it really ultimately doesn’t detract from the incredible exploits of Grylls. Part travelogue (albeit to places most people are never going to go), part survival guide, Man vs. Wild is all adventure, and will leave a lot of viewers regularly breathless.
Release Date: January 13, 2009
Video: Man vs. Wild arrives in a nice, enhanced 1.78:1 transfer that is substantially above average for a television presentation. While the show is frequently shot “on the fly,” with one of Grylls’ support staff trailing after him with a handheld camera, there are a lot of gorgeous establishing shots made all the more impressive by the fact that so many unusual locales are featured. Color and contrast are excellent, and black levels are consistent, especially important in that Grylls tends to go for dark and spooky places like caves (not to mention the inside of camels).
Audio: The standard DD 2.0 mix is pretty average television fare, with little separation to speak of, but excellent fidelity. The bulk of the show is simply Grylls talking about what’s going on, augmented by ambient noises in whatever environment he finds himself. Everything is reproduced excellently, from the roar of waterfalls to the quiet chirping of birds.
Extras: The only extra was in fact my favorite “episode” on the entire 3 disc set—a very cool look at Grylls’ successful attempt to fly a motorized hangglider contraption at the insane altitude of almost 30,000 feet above Mt. Everest. This unusual outing was great in that it had none of the squirm-worthy elements that frequent the typical Man vs. Wild episode, while portraying a truly death-defying feat on the part of Grylls.