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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Science > History > Technology > Mini Series > Automobiles > Vehicles > British TV > James May’s 20th Century (2008 w/James May’s Big Ideas (2007)/Acorn/Athena DVD Set)/Top Gear 18 (2012/U.K. Version/BBC DVD Set)

James May’s 20th Century (2008 w/James May’s Big Ideas (2007)/Acorn/Athena DVD Set)/Top Gear 18 (2012/U.K. Version/BBC DVD Set)


Picture: C/C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Main Programs: B



I am a big fan of the BBC series Top Gear and if the cars and other vehicles are a collection so amazing that you will rarely find anything to rival it, the three hosts put the show over the top (no pun intended) and have made that show one of the most important from British TV in the last 30+ years.  However, the hosts are so smart, talented and well-spoken that they have other projects they have made including their own occasion TV mini-series.



James May is one of those amazing hosts and James May’s 20th Century (2008) is an exceptional (and exceptionally fun) science and technology TV series that looks at how the unprecedented technological innovations of the Industrial Age in said century changed our lives forever and more often for the better in six episodes that consider all kinds of factors as the following shows:


Honey, I Shrunk The World asks if airplanes or cars did more to make the world more accessible, plus how TV, computers and the Internet made this possible.  Blast Off! looks at how rockets and space travel (coming out of war innovations) changed the world permanently.  Body Fantastic looks at how the medical world and its innovations permanently changed our perceptions of life, life expectancy and what we expect out of life will never be the same again.  Take Cover! looks more directly at the impact of war technology on our lives.  Inventing The Teenager is another great segment showing how technology along with higher standards of living (and unspoken child labor laws) liberated the age group.  Big City, Bright Lights rounds out the series by looking at the rise of cities and how technology keeps allowing them to grow and usually benefit people in general.



If that was not enough, a second shorter but just as smart series is included on one DVD.  James May’s Big Ideas (2007) runs only three episodes, but is as terrific (we will count it as a second series and not an extra) continues the same line of questioning and examination.  Come Fly With Me tries to think of new ways we can travel and get around better with the most efficiency.  Man-Machine looks at our relationship with technology and how the technology is melding with us more than you might expect and interesting ways you may not have seen or heard of yet.  Power To The People talks about the future of our energy needs and have some great ideas of its own.


May is such a natural in front of the camera and is able to talk to the audience instead of at, with a personability and naturalness we see too little of these days.  Even if you have never seen Top Gear, you will really enjoy this terrific set, especially since it has hardly had a much-deserved U.S. audience.  Extras in a nicely illustrated booklet on the subject including informative text and text bio of May on the bonus DVD.



However, many seasons of Top Gear are on Blu-ray and more on DVD.  For whatever reason, the BBC has this time decided that Top Gear 18 (2012) will only be issued on DVD for now and though that will disappoint some fans, I still enjoy seeing the show and these are still quality discs for the format.


Starting with the decent India Special, we get 7 regular season episodes and extras over three DVDs as May is joined by Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson.  The cars tested this season include the Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster, Fisker Karma, Maserati Gran Turismo MC Stradale, more hilarious comparison races between the trio picking cards they think can endure & win, a piece on helping out on the making of a car chase for the new feature film remake of the classic British TV cop series The Sweeney (on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and a tribute to the end of the Saab Motor Company.

They may not have as many superexoticars as usual, but this is still a solid season and has some great laughs, including form their news segments.  It is great to see the show as strong as ever.


Extras include a Season 18 Welcome, a bonus episode of the U.S. Season Two version of the show with different hosts, Jeremy observes grazing fans and extra footage of the guests driving their “reasonably priced cars” which should be watched after seeing the actual shows.



The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Century and Gear, plus the anamorphically enhanced 1.66 X 1 on Ideas are new HD shoots, but the two May series tend to be a little softer overall, though they have plenty of fine visual moments.  The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in all three cases is are simple, but clean and clear; professionally recorded and mixed as usual for the shows May tends to show up on.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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