I love Top Gear. It's a perfect blend of information, entertainment, action, and comedy hosted by a trio of Brits who have great on screen chemistry. The main draw however is that the show is very clever. It offers so many thrills and laughs that you hardly notice that they are throwing in a lot of information about automobiles the whole time. It's great. That's why I was excited to finally see Top Gear: The Worst Car in the History of the World, a direct to video special that was released in the UK at the end of last year (just in time for Christmas) but hadn't made it to R1 until now. Early on in the show, they define what they're looking for; not the crappiest car to ever roll off an assembly line but the car that doesn't come close to meeting expectations. The car that fails when it should have. Based on that criterion, I'm sad to report that this release is the worst Top Gear special in the history of the world. It drags and takes pointless detours, isn't very funny, and has a very weak ending. In other words, it's just not clever; and that's what you're paying for.
Background: For those who haven't heard of the program, Top Gear is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) shows in the world, syndicated in 170 countries and earning an estimated 350 million viewers per episode. That's 5% of the entire population of planet Earth. Pretty impressive. Yet the show is so simple: three hosts review very high end sports cars and put both new and used cars through their paces in a series of bizarre, yet incredibly fun, tasks (like having a one mile race between a fighter jet and a supercar over a ... the jet's had to travel vertically while the car was taking on a horizontal course).
Unfortunately, this special stumbles right out of the gate by omitting one of the hosts of the TV series, Richard Hammond. This show only features James May and Jeremy Clarkson, which is too bad because Hammond really adds a lot of personality to the mix and his boyish charm and enthusiasm offsets May's rather dry technical ramblings and Clarkson's grumpy old man persona.
Even without Hammond, the special has a great premise. What is the worst car ever? They start off with profiling two vehicles that no one has ever heard of, one made behind the Iron Curtain years and years ago and a Jeep clone that went horribly wrong. Then they clarify what they're looking for: it's not which car is total rubbish, there are plenty of low cost options to choose from, but which car was really disappointing when it shouldn't have been. Which company that usually manufactures excellent cars took a horrible misstep?
After setting up what they were looking for, I spent a lot of the rest of the running time scratching my head. If they were focusing on bad cars, why is half of the show given over to reviewing great vehicle? They put a few sports cars through their paces while singing their praises and bragging that they can were the new tires out in 25 minutes. The show doesn't have much focus at all.
The rest of the time they do profile cars that didn't make the grade... sort of. Sometimes it's hard to understand what was wrong with a car. The Ford GT was seemingly in the show because it was too wide, one car's list of defects was that it came with a cassette tape player, and a certain Rolls Royce was critiqued for being hand made and so "replacement parts never seemed to fit properly." The also dissed a Ford Escort, which seemed like shooting fish in a barrel.
Most of the time the car reviews were done while flying around a track, which became a bit monotonous after a while. So to break it up a bit, the two hosts played golf for a while, talking about cars while they did. Is that really much better??
They did have a mini contest in the program where they created course and pitted two older, very large, American cars, a Lincoln Continental and a Buick LeSabre, against... a modern BMW M5. The track was filled with ordeals that were designed for the big boats to fail, which made the test even more idiotic. Does anyone really think a Continental Mark IV is going to be able to do donuts?? It would have been much more interesting to compare those cars to a contemporary Rolls but as it stands the whole section was sort of pointless. The fact that it went on for eight grueling minutes (the whole show run 73 minutes so it was a good chunk of the program) added to the whole feeling that they were just looking to fill time.
That's not to say the show was all bad. There were some good segments that were entertaining and informative. One candidate was a convertible Citroen where the method for putting the top down was absurdly complicated and involved removing parts of the car. The horrible thing is that the parts that were removed wouldn't fit in the car itself, so if you traveled some place with the top down, you couldn't put it up when you arrived. (Which really sucks if it starts to rain.) There was also a very fun part where James May tried to park a Saab with their Sensonic transmission. It was an interesting manual/automatic hybrid where you could change gears with the stick shift, but there wasn't a clutch. The car operated that automatically. It worked perfectly as long as you were driving. If you had to do something a bit complicated however, like trying to parallel park on a hill, it made the task nearly impossible.
There was something akin to a running gag throughout the show too. The two hosts kept on cryptically referring to the fate they had planned for the winning vehicle. I won't ruin the surprise, but due to the big buildup I was hoping that the payoff would be funny and entertaining. Something more than just dropping a piano or some other object on the car (they've done that several times in the show.) While they didn't drop anything on the car they ultimately chose, the fate of that vehicle was incredibly lame. It was the final let down in a show that could have been so much better.
The stereo sound is very good, with a fair amount of separation between the two channels, but I would have enjoyed a dedicated subwoofer channel to get more of the growl from some of the more energetic engines that they test.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks very good. The colors are sharp, the lines are tight, and the blacks are nice and inky. It's an excellent looking disc.
Nothing at all.
Like a few of the cars they profiled, this special was a big disappointment. It wasn't clever like the TV show. Though the premise was fantastic they didn't keep to the point and kept on taking long and pointless detours that had little to do with really crappy cars. (Does anyone really want to see the hosts playing golf?) If you've never seen the TV show, pick up a season of that instead. On the other hand if you're a huge fan of the TV show, as I am, you might want to give this a rental. But maybe not.