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Narrative: Documentary & Mockumentary, Top Gear Polar Special (2007)

Figure 1: The Toyota Hilux

This film review will focus on the Top Gear Polar Special Episode, the document follows the story of three men attempting a test to see if a Toyota pickup truck can get to the north pole faster that a sleigh with huskies. The expedition gives some good insight into what its like to travel to the north pole whilst still holding comedic value.

The episode aired in 2007 as a Christmas special and a DVD was released in 2008, the expedition was attempted by the team at Top Gear and was funded by the BBC.

This review will be focusing on the episode as a documentary and a Mockumentary as the episode is somewhat of a hybrid of the two, still keeping the comedic value that is known in the top gear show but still being informative enough to deliver information on the car and the actual trip they are going on.

Figure 2: Crashed Plane

What is the difference between a Documentry and a Mockumentry?

A documentary is created to inform the viewer of a certain subject of interest, for example planet explores in depth about the behavior or animals in different environment and how they have adapted. Whilst little quirks can be put into the production to give the film a much more human touch the whole idea of the program is to 'Inform' not to entertain. Entertaining the viewer is useful because it can keep the viewer interested and attached to the story, however the line between professional documentary and half baked documentary can be altered based on the production values of how the show went and or what it ultimately achieved.

A Mockumentary is usually based on either something that happened or an idea that can be elaborated on, a good example is The Dictator (2012), taking the stereotype of what Islamic dictators are really like and turning it into a comedic concept. ideas like this either do extremely well or end up offending a lot of people, so another example to use would be Black Adder (1983), taking historical events and adding comedic value to entertain the viewer. The idea of this is to still inform the viewer and give them information but ultimately can still keep the viewer interested. Using slapstick comedy in the past (Dad's Army (1968)) is a good way of creating an experience that whilst still not being 100% serious can still deliver an informative piece of media whilst still have a large amount of comedic value.

Figure 3: Toyota's Equipment

Top Gear's Expedition as a Documentary and a Mockumentary

Top Gears main subject of the show is to deliver information on cars, the show heavily revolves around this factor and as such needs to have people who can be relatable and understandable. The casting Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond can create a diverse set of characters that can be easily understood and easily related to. Now the task they had been set was a first, no-one had ever 'Driven' to the north pole before, it was a first of its kind so they had an opportunity to show how durable the car they would be using was but also deliver facts about the Antarctic.

Delivering facts about the car to begin with, when the expedition start the viewer is given the information they need to know for the car as well as what it has been equipped with. Some of the subjects which can be spoken about would have been dangers in the Antarctic, dangers of driving a car in hazardous conditions, dangers of the cold and what precautions need to be taken when travelling in the Antarctic. These could then be elaborated upon when need be and they wouldn't really need to be scripted or even written down, because the expedition follows the main characters of this episode they explain the troubles of Antarctic travel as either witty banter or humor.

Now the comedic side of this would have been how three unfit, inexperienced, middle aged men get to the north pole. Now its a common fact that sometime we like to see people suffer, not in a bad way but in a context where is would be comedic to the viewer by moral standards, for example someone falling over would be very different to someone getting shot with a rifle. Also the relatability of the characters would be very key in order to make the show a better watch. Using stupid male humor as well as little quirks in the film are  able to make the viewing a much more enjoyable experience.

Figure 4: Huskies

The filming and actual making of the Documentary

It is very difficult to talk about the documentary because it is a sort of hybrid between Mockumentary and Documentary, the comedic value can  sometimes take over the shows original intentions, but the original intentions of the show will always be there. Now some advantages of having a documentary rather than a film would be that a lot more human emotion and relatability can be conveyed through a documentary rather that a triple A film, and the reason being is that in a documentary you are travelling along these people on this adventure, whereas in a film you are taking a back seat and watch a series of events unfold.

Depending on the subject however some documentary would be very difficult to create, for example filming something like life on the moon would be harder than filming something like filming human facial anatomy. So depending on what task is being undertaken the production crew may have a much harder time creating something original and new, rather than something that has been attempted before, just because of the chosen subject.

Overall as a piece of media the Polar Special is something to be respected. It may have not been a film but the way in which the video is produced, formatted and presented shows just how dangerous getting to the north pole is but also how much fun it could be, giving birth to new ideas and new creative outlets. The Polar special did seem to have the correct amount of information, information presented in a comedic manor and comedy to make the viewing experience interesting, exciting and enticing. It is a good hybrid of Documentary and Mockumentary.

Image Bibliography

Figure 1, The Toyota Hilux: