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America Wild and Wacky: Sturgis

Smithsonian Networks // Unrated // August 25, 2009
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted March 9, 2010 | E-mail the Author
America Wild and Wacky: Sturgis:
Here's a rather brief 45-minute DVD ported out from its original cable TV airing - in this case from the Smithsonian Channel - that serves little purpose for your standard DVD consumer. Unless you've a need to package a specialty gift for that motorcycle enthusiast in your family, or feel this profile of the huge annual motorcycle festival in Sturgis, South Dakota might fit the bill for some educational purpose, you're better off waiting to catch the program on TV or search for something of more substance.

It's not that Wild and Wacky: Sturgis isn't entertaining, or diverting, it's just that there's not enough substance here to justify a rental, let alone a purchase. Your standard collection of on-site footage and interviews allows for a decent generalist look at a complex phenomenon, a phenomenon that holds rare fascination for those heavily involved in motorcycles. The problem of course is that a generalist view holds little interest for a chopper fanatic, while also soft-peddling the material for those who might not know, but want to learn more.

For what it's worth, Sturgis is the location of a decades-old celebration of all things motorcycle, (in particular Harleys) which has grown from a virtual campout to a festival that attracts close to half-a-million bikers. Though the festival presented on this DVD seems fairly tame (an outhouse fire is the worst incident given a glance) one has to assume that massive amounts of beer, whiskey, and what-have-you lead to plenty of female nudity and other occurrences that make normal men tremble. Not that you'd know it from this family friendly doc. We do get to see a few censored lassies sans shirts, but that's about it. Where's the danger? Certainly all these bearded folks don't escape their everyday lives only to peacefully ride around a tiny prairie town?

Nonetheless, what topics are covered in this superficial look have just enough engaging human interest elements, and displays of octane excess to hold the attention of most bored couch potatoes. A competition of custom choppers that are as much works of art and technological marvel will whet budding gearheads' appetites. The burning rubber contest (held in nearby Wyoming) is a testament to mob insanity - though it does sound kind of fun. If you didn't know bikers liked tattoos, you'll learn that here, too. You'll learn that even women like bikes, and get a tourist's look at the Buffalo Chip Campground, a temporary city of over 500 acres, with its own stores and restaurants, where the 500-fold increase in Sturgis' population can bivouac.

But if you're looking for a more detailed history, a sociological examination of this phenomenon, or the type of scurrilous thrills Easy Rider magazine thrives on, you'll move on down the road. While this superficial look at the Sturgis phenomenon is engaging for channel surfers, there's not enough there to justify its existence on DVD.

The DVD

Video:
1.78:1 non-anamorphic video looks great considering its shot-on-video source. Colors are natural looking, details are fine and the image is crisp.

Sound:
Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English Audio are provided options, and per my set-up both sound great, with a nice dynamic range that highlights both the throaty rumble of the bikes, and the horrific squeals of the burning rubber contest.

Extras:
About 20 minutes of Previews for other Smithsonian Channel DVDs, and English SDH Captioning are the only extras.

Final Thoughts:
This 45-minute doc about the biker festival in Sturgis, South Dakota eschews the details road hogs want and forgoes the seamy aspects thrill-seekers need, in order to deliver a brief, general and superficial look at the event. It's the type of programming you might expect to see on your Sturgis hotel TV as you check in for the week - "Welcome to beautiful Sturgis!" If you're casually interested, check for a rerun on TV, or if you've got a teen who's just getting into bikes, this might make a fun gift from a kindly grandparent, otherwise, Skip It.

www.kurtdahlke.com

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