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Exploring the Deserts of the Earth

Koch Vision // Unrated // May 8, 2007
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted May 18, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The movie


Exploring the Deserts of the
Earth
isn't your typical nature documentary. Michael Martin, a
photographer, and Elke Wallner, a filmmaker, take on the challenge of
visiting all the deserts of the world, in one long trip over 900
days. It's a decidedly low-key adventure: the duo ride a motorcycle
with no escort vehicle or special supplies, as they document their
journey through five continents and fifty countries.


If the word "desert" makes
you think of sand dunes and camels, you've only got a tiny glimpse of
what awaits in the Deserts of the Earth. The Sahara, which the
filmmakers call the Queen of Deserts, is only one of many different
kinds of deserts that they visit over the course of almost three
years. Hot deserts and below-freezing deserts; deserts below sea
level and high above it; yellow dunes and white salt flats. There's
something different in each desert and country that they visit,
whether it's lakes in the middle of dunes, high-tech Saudi cities, a
Buddhist monastery tucked away in the middle of the desert, or wave
formations frozen in wind-sculpted rock. After following the
filmmakers through the wilds of Australia, Asia, and South America,
it's fascinating to see the North American deserts through the same
perspective. It's inspiring to see what stunning and beautiful
landscapes there are in Nevada, Colorado, Arizona...


What makes the documentary
interesting not just the amazing landscapes, but also the filmmakers'
keen eye for observing culture. While the stark beauty of the deserts
themselves is the touchpoint of each episode of their journey, the
heart of the program seems to be the filmmakers' interactions with
the people they meet along the way. Martin and Wallner are welcomed
by countless people along their route. In fact, their journey would
have been impossible without the kindness of the people they meet,
who provide hospitality, directions, advice, food, and an open
invitation to capture their lives on film. It's an honest and
respectful look at all the different cultures that they meet, more so
because much of their journey involves participating in the daily
lives of the people whose land they're passing through, if only for a
few days.


Michel Martin, the photographer of
the duo, also wrote the script for the narration, which is given an
excellent voiceover by David Ingram. The narration does a nice job of
balancing an explanation of what they see with moments of just
letting the viewers see and hear for themselves.


The episodes run half an hour
apiece, which feels just right. The titles give a glimpse of the
variety of experiences shown in the documentary:


Part One: Bedouins, Seas of Sand,
and a Treasure from 1001 Nights


Part Two: Deserts of Salt - Crater
of Fire - Wild Camels


Part Three: The Ancient Buried
Cities and Holy Lakes of Alashan


Part Four: 100,000 Camels and 3,000
Rats


Part Five: The Cold, The Dust, and
The Mines


Part Six: The Red Heart of Australia


Part Seven: Salt Lakes - Volcanoes -
Geysers


Part Eight: Llamas, Seals and Buried
Cultures


Part Nine: Highway to Heaven


Part Ten: An African Adventure -
Nomads...


Part Eleven: The Sahara, Queen of
Deserts


Part Twelve: Of Rebels, Crocodiles
and Smugglers


The DVD


This is a two-disc set, with six
episodes on each DVD.


Video


Exploring the Deserts of the
Earth
is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which looks like
it's probably the original aspect ratio. Considering the rough
conditions in which much of this footage was captured, the image is
quite good. The image tends to be a bit soft and grainy, but the
colors are lovely and the overall experience is captured well.


Audio


The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is
attractive, giving a clean and natural sound to the voiceover as well
as to the dialogue that's captured on the spot.


Extras


There are no special features.


Final thoughts


Exploring the Deserts of the
Earth
is a refreshingly different documentary, one that does a
great job of balancing "travelogue" with information. I
felt that the episodes were enjoyable and entertaining, while also
helping me to learn more about the staggering beauty and variety of
the world's landscapes and cultures. By the end of it, I was feeling
motivated to spend a few days visiting the desert, as I'm lucky
enough to live in Southern California only a few hours' drive away
from spectacular landscapes. That's a pretty good testament to the
effectiveness of the documentary! Recommended.

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