In recent years, the Discovery Channel has played host to two particularly interesting shows - both very different in approach, but both dealing with how to attempt to survive in difficult conditions around the globe. While Les Stroud's "Survivorman" has unfortunately called it quits due to the wear the production was taking on the show's host, still airing is "Man Vs. Wild", which stars former UK Secret Service Forces member Bear Grylls, who managed to climb Mount Everest at 23.
"Man Vs. Wild" episodes see Grylls and the production team (including cameramen) into a remote location and the mission is to survive until he can be lifted out of the area. In the meantime, the host details to the camera all of his tips as to how to survive (find food, shelter, withstand the temps, etc) in the region.
The series has had quite a bit of controversy over the years, given the fact that Grylls does have a crew with him during filming (and there are some reports that Grylls spent the night in hotels or in other places instead of sleeping out in the wild.) While the prior seasons of the series have seen Grylls remaining intense and energetic in situations where he should be conserving energy (one of my criticisms of the series, as it didn't seem realistic), thankfully he seems to have toned it down a little at this point in the series.
Still, while the show may not be as authentic as one may have been lead to believe, the series does at least provide useful survival tips to those who find themselves in the wilderness frequently. Whether or not Grylls gets help from his production crew, the adventurer does certainly venture into some extreme climates.
This fourth season of the series does include the much-discussed episode, "Men Vs. Wild", which sees actor Will Ferrell (there to promote "Land of the Lost") joining Grylls for a trip into the Arctic Circle for a 2-day stay in the midst of brutally cold temperatures and a relatively barren landscape. Grylls keeps going on about how "this isn't Hollywood", but this is otherwise an amusing and enjoyably bizarre episode - while Ferrell delivers some incredibly funny cracks (he starts off the episode eating the emergency Twinkie - "I panicked."), there's more than a few moments where Ferrell becomes serious as reality sets in. Still, Ferrell does fairly well and makes for an entertaining co-host ("Maybe I'll become a snowshoe cobbler.") and seems to have gained a real appreciation for the peace and tranquility of it.
The other "unusual" episode this season is "Urban Survivor", where Grylls teaches viewers survival tactics that can be used in the case of an urban disaster. While doing a flip while running across a rooftop seems a tad much, the episode otherwise provides some decent tips. There is also an episode where the crew who follow Grylls get to discuss what it takes to film an episode ("The Inside Story").
As for the remainder of the episodes, they offer a wild mixture of various landscapes and scenery, as Grylls trots around the globe, with stops at places like Big Sky Country, China, Vietnam, an isolated island in the Pacific, Alabama, Texas and Alaska, among others. Again, Grylls has seemingly taken the criticism of the show to heart, and while there is still an unnecessarily glossy feel to "Man Vs. Wild", the series has given information and the fascinating scenery now shares more of the focus with the now (somewhat) subtler Grylls.
Of course, as he's known to do, Grylls eats more gross things than "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern and offers some tips for viewers, such as how grasshoppers make a tasty treat while out in Big Sky Country. The Big Sky Country episode also provides a great tip about all of the uses for pine resin.
As for the differences between "Survivorman" and "Man Vs. Wild", there's something to the more simple approach of "Survivorman" that still holds a greater appeal: Stroud's relatively simple camera set-ups (Stroud filmed the series himself with no crew, carrying 50 pounds of camera gear while trying to survive for a week) often lead to unexpectedly gorgeous footage, while the slicker look of "Man Vs. Wild" actually manages to take away from the feeling of reality. Stroud's subtle humor and low-key attitude also remained engaging, especially as Stroud attempted a survival technique (which didn't always work the first time.)
Although I still prefer "Survivorman", the entertaining "Man vs. Wild" does venture into some incredible regions of the world in order for Grylls to teach viewers how to cope and survive in incredibly difficult conditions.
This set is currently available at the Discovery Channel website, but will be available elsewhere 5/4/10.
VIDEO: Image Entertainment presents these episodes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is terrific, as sharpness and detail remain above-average in all scenes aside from a few dimly-lit ones. While a few instances of slight pixelation were noticed, the presentation was otherwise smooth and clean, with no edge enhancement or other faults. Colors remained natural and seemed spot-on, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: A crisp, clear stereo soundtrack offers well-recorded, clean-sounding dialogue and background ambience.
EXTRAS: Not much - we get some deleted footage (worth watching, but nothing that should have ended up in the series) and a highlight reel for the series up until this point.
Final Thoughts: Although I still prefer "Survivorman", "Man Vs. Wild" tones it down a little bit this season and the results are more enjoyable. The DVD offers solid audio/video quality, but really nothing much in the way of extras. Recommended.