Monday, May 19, 2008

Man vs. Wild: Review

Bear Grylls served in the British Special Forces; at the time he climbed Everest, he broke the world record as the youngest ever to do so; he parasailed the same mountain (really, he had an oxygen tank and a special parasail); he is an avid rockclimber, mountaineer, and adventurer; needless to say, Bear Grylls is a pretty cool guy.

That’s why Man vs. Wild, a show dedicated to survival, tends to fixate on him; but this isn’t a bad thing. The show is only partly instructional; if person wants some real lessons in survival, they need more then just Man vs. Wild.

A review of the show is not complete without mentioning its scenery. Filmed in HD, this show has some great shots of the world’s most foreboding wildernesses; wide angle shots are fantastically directed (even if it takes always from the sincerity of the “survival” situation.) and Bear always needs to get into a place in an interesting way; weather it’s hangliding, parachuting, jumping out of a helicopter, or some other stunt; these scenes, while a bit contrived, are incredibly fun to watch.

There is a gross-out factor to this show, and the editors know it. Bear often has to find food, lacking options, like a fire, he must sometimes eat some disgusting things raw, which is shown in a little too much detail. But even this has a point; it does show what a person must go through in order to survive. Despair, I have heard, is the number one killer; keeping a positive, survivalist attitude is the most important factor.

It’s also worth noting that the show doesn’t shy away form some of the crueler aspects of life; Bear must sometimes hunt, and kill medium sized animals (sometimes cute ones); it shows the complete process, from capture to preparation to eating. For this the show has taken some heat from environmentalists (I believe there is a petition to get it off the air.) Bear Grylls clearly has a reverence for the beauty of nature, but he is not deluded as to what nature is; he’s no environmentalist (at least not by their standards.)

Bear Grylls also took some heat awhile ago for supposedly not being authentic; that he was actually much safer then he said he was. I tend to put such accusations under the same category as the people who where shocked to learn that Ashley Simpson was lip-synching. Of course it’s not completely real, the fact that he has a camera crew with him tells you something; the wide angle shots have to be planned, and I’m sure the crew is not scrounging for food like Bear. Still, Bear really jumps into crocodile and leech infested swamps, really boulders that steep rock-face, and really does all the things impossible to fake. There are also times when Bear is clearly nervous, like when a good sized shark was circling his small raft in the pacific.

This might sound cruel of me; but I enjoy watching this show from the safety of my own home; watching Bear Grylls have to ring water out of his own socks; or walk through is water; or futilely try to start a fire in the rainforest; makes me feel cozy.

People don’t seem to realize how big this world is, this is only occasionally demonstrated in the media; when a rich adventure’s plane went down, the largest single man-hunt in history couldn’t find him; and that was in America! This show gives a clear sense of the scale of our planet, and how little of it we actually occupy.

I like this show because it’s only star – Bear Grylls- is a clearly confident, competent, and strong individual. It also perfectly demonstrates, implicitly, the importance of technology in our lives, by showing what life is when a person is (mostly) detached from it.

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