Talented comedian and veteran travel show presenter Michael Palin has been a part of some of my favorite movies and TV shows over the years, and “Sahara” is no exception. 2011 is right around the corner, meaning that we’ve nearly hit the 10-year anniversary of the filming of Sahara (the show was filmed in 2001, but didn’t air until 2002). Here are some of my thoughts about the production and how well it has aged over the last 10 years.
One thing I was saddened about when watching one of Palin’s other documentaries, “Pole to Pole”, was the picture quality. “Sahara”, however, was filmed using HD cameras. While it has yet to be released on Blu-ray and get an upgrade to 1080p, the 720p version available through online streaming video was still very nice. Once again, the action is beautifully framed, and the stunning beauty of the various parts of the Sahara is showcased to great effect. The show is currently only available on DVD or through services like Netflix Streaming, but with the 10-year anniversary just around the corner, maybe a Blu-ray version will be released?
Once again, Palin exhibits his uncanny timing for traveling through a country during times of interesting political shifts. In “Pole to Pole”, he left the borders of the USSR days before the events that would bring about the fall of communism…and he also visits South Africa mere months after apartheid has been lifted.
In “Sahara”, Palin begins his journey in Gibraltar, which is under British rule. By the end of filming, Gibraltar is moving towards a shift in leadership. While it is still technically under British authority today, Palin catches the change in sentiment at a very interesting time.
Female circumcision is a frequent topic of conversation, especially in episode 2, and this makes for some fascinating discussions. Religion is another topic that is frequently discussed, and Palin’s dry interactions with a French missionary in episode 2 are especially engaging. This is arguably the most politically tense documentary Palin has done.
For “Python” Fans
In the final episode, Palin visits a site used in the filming of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”, and there is a great moment where he is watching the DVD of the movie on a portable player just outside the filming site. If you’re a hardcore Python fan, you should definitely watch this episode.
This documentary series has aged very well. The picture quality is still very good, many of the same political and social issues are still relevant today, and as always, Palin’s dry wit makes for an entertaining program. If you have ever longed to travel to Northern Africa, this documentary is required viewing.