One of the fun things about doing DVD reviews is taking chances on films that simply pique my interest, rather than having to swallow whatever the local muliplex happens to be shoveling down my throat. Of course, I end up seeing an awful lot of junk on DVD, too—but this is not one of those cases.
Cinema Libre's World Exploration 3-Pack assembles a three-in-one of Slav documentarian Pavol Barabas' short adventure films. These medium-length films appear to have been originally produced for Czech TV in the late 1990s and early 2000s—so be warned that you are in store for neither a Blu-ray experience, nor some polished Discovery- or National Geographic-style docudrama. But what these films lack in polish they more than make up for with sheer audacity.
Here's Cinema Libre's description of the three films:
ARCTIC EXTREME. The true life story of four polar explorers crossing the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada through the North Pole.
OMO. Six daring people set out for the unknown on a raft through the dangerous canyon of the Ethiopian River, Omo, to discover people living naturally along the river’s lower reaches, far from the civilized world.
AMAZONIA VERTICAL. Ayuan Tepui is the highest table mountain in the Amazon. Extreme explorers venture on a trek to experience the power of nature and adventurous discovery of a lost world.
Extremist Adventures - For Real
Barabas is, of course, a participant or observer in each of these extremist adventures, acting as the cameraman or editor. And I do mean "extremist" here. Barabas is no Bear Grylls, who essentially manufactures danger for the sake of the home-viewing audience. There is also no sense, as with Survivor Man, that rescue is still really only a hearty shout or two away. No, Barabas and his co-adventurers are truly "out there" on their own, putting themselves in extraordinary danger—while at the same time exercising pains-taking caution because they know they're flying without a net. Barabas captures some amazing moments as result. It makes one wonder how he (and others) found the energy to keep the camera rolling at times.
Take Arctic Extreme, for instance. If you've read much about Arctic and Antarctic exploration, you've read tales of perilous journeys across ice floes, sastrugi, and pressure ice. Well, here you get to see all of that played out in very real-life situations as the subjects of Barabas' film spend four months crossing the North Pole on skis. A polar bear pokes its nose into their tent one night. Melting frost pools into their sleeping bags—and refreezes. They literally find themselves adrift on raft-sized ice floes, and ski across sea ice just a few centimeters thick. And you're with them through it all.
Similarly, Amazonia Vertical finds Barabas and three chums tackling not only some pretty extreme climbing, but a cross-country trek across through a literally uncharted table mountain to the top of one of the world's highest waterfalls—just for the chance to rappel down its face. Along the way, they wander through slot canyons and throw themselves down jungle ravines. And nobody really knows where they are. Truly mind-boggling stuff.
Gritty and Unvarnished
So if you're looking for polished, urbane, pristine nature flicks... uh, these aren't them. But if you've got a taste for gritty, unvarnished, off-the-beaten track real-life adventure... oh, man. Score.
The World Exploration 3-Pack is unrated. But as I recall, they're pretty family-friendly... other than the fact that you probably wouldn't want your kids to get any outlandishly adventurous ideas!
Courtesy of the films' distributor, Greg screened check disks of The World Exploration 3-Pack.
Greg Wright is Managing Editor of both Past the Popcorn and Hollywood Jesus. An ordained pastor, Greg is the author of Tolkien In Perspective: Sifting the Gold from the Glitter (2003) and Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004). A widely-known lecturer on Tolkien, Lewis, film, and fantasy, Greg resides in the Seattle area with his precious wife Jenn and their two cats, Grynne and Bearrett.