Starring Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May
Produced by Andy Wilman
Love it or hate it this is the age of the man-boy. He may look like an adult, and chronologically he is an adult, he may even have a family and hold down a steady job but in his chest beats the heart of a twelve year old. Now most men manage to keep the inner twelve year old in check to some respect but occasionally there arises a special set of circumstances that allows that inner twelve year old to bust free, even to shine. Top Gear is one of those special sets of circumstances.
Ostensibly Top Gear is an automotive magazine show, there are test drives and shoot outs between competitive models, there is a news segment of the show and guests are invited to lap the Top Gear test track in a “reasonably priced car” and if that was all there was to Top Gear it might still be a show I would enjoy, but I probably would not be trying to talk you into buying this Blu-ray. No, the genius of Top Gear is that the twelve year olds have taken over the playground.
Not that Top Gear can’t get serious, the season starts off with Clarkson giving a touching and insightful tribute to the Jaguar E-Type, one of the most beautiful and influential cars ever built and certainly one of the most important British cars ever built. Clarkson laments that the E-Type turned fifty over the summer and nobody seems to notice. So Clarkson decides to set things right, and does while managing to keep the inner twelve year old mostly at bay. Bookending the season in the last episode Hammond has a piece about a rally team of veteran amputees that is both moving and inspiring. More typical though is the trip the three took to Italy in episode two to see who had picked the better hatchback. The tests to judge the quality of the hot hatches; navigating out of a maze like medieval Italian city, a scavenger hunt and a couple of hot laps around the F1 road course in Monaco. Also typical Top Gear is the challenge they give themselves of improving British rail service by incorporating automotive technology. In the end they just end up destroying more caravans, campers to everybody on this side of the pond, a long running gag on the show.
So what else is going on in Season 17, well beside the E-type tribute there is another bit about a classic, the iconic Jensen Interceptor. In typical car against something else Top Gear style there is a race between Olympic Gold Medal winning bobsledder Amy Williams and the new Mini Rally car. They compare the new McLaren super car to the Ferrari 458. There is also a comparison between the Jaguar XKR-S and the Nissan GT-R. Clarkson and May see if they can make it the coast in the electric Nissan Lead and Peugot iOn and they take the new Lamborghini Aventador out on the track. The guests include Alice Cooper, Bob Geldof, Rowan Atkinson and the current F1 champion Sebastion Vettel.
Clarkson, May and Hammond may play the fool but there is nothing childish in the way the show is shot. Although some of the shots and techniques have become predictable, you know the outdoor sequences at the test track are going to be shot with heavy vignetteing and with a graduated filter, but it does tend to give the pieces a Top Gear look. The cinematographers manage to pull every bit of the scarce British light into the camera. The musical choices are usually pretty interesting as well.
The video is presented in 1080i and widescreen like you would expect for a Blu-ray. There are three episodes on two discs and a third disc of extras. The show looks great in HD. Top Gear is a very visual show and this is definitely the way to see it.
The audio presented in stereo in English only, there are English subtitles. It gets the job done. The mix is professional and there are no issues or problems it just doesn’t pop like the video.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The three disc set comes in a single width Blu-ray case. The artwork is appropriate and consistent with the other releases in the series. There is a whole extra disc of extras, so they are doing alright on the quantity thing, but the quality side of the equation is a little lacking. There are behind the scenes footage for all of the guests as they are out on the track, there is some footage of James May interviewing Amy Williams and some quite good footage of Hammond talking bikes with Ross Noble. There is some footage of May trying out the launch control on the Nissan GT-R, but none of it is really all that compelling except for the Hammond Noble conversation which you can tell is just two guys shooting the breeze about something they love. Also worth watching is an episode of the American version of Top Gear which is nowhere near the level of the original show but it doesn’t suck which makes it a lot better than most people predicted.
Overall (not an average) 8/10
I know this can be a hard sell. It’s a car show that’s not about cars. It a show about three men acting like spoiled kids; on top of that it’s British. I don’t mean just that it’s filmed in good ole’ Blighty either. It’s unapologetically British; there will be jokes about the US, about France, about everywhere that’s not in and just around London actually, somehow though that just makes me love it more, especially the jokes about France.
The Show: 9/10
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 7/10
Overall (not and average): 8/10