The Long Way Up

An exercise in disappointment, rather than the emotional journey that we all desired

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Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

I imagine that the appeal of this lad’s adventure will resonate most with those who watched the original two adventures. The Long Way Round and the Long Way Down arrived on our screens during the postmillennial decade.

In the first adventure, we saw Ewan McGregor and his friend, Charley Boorman travelling around the world on two motorbikes. They travelled from London to New York the Long Way Round. It was a true lads adventure and one that set me on my journey of desire to explore the world.

The Long Way Down was the same concept as the first adventure, yet it was from Scotland to the lowest point of South Africa. More adventure and more excitement to entice me out of my shell. It was a trip that was hampered somewhat from Ewan’s side, in the fact that his now ex-wife joined for a short stretch and there was petty squabbling between him and co-lead, Charley Boorman.

With all of this in mind, I was still picturing the comradery that was personified in the original offering when The Long Way Up arrived. What I actually got was,

‘High-level celebrity makes a statement with previously forgotten about a friend.’

The Build-up

Each trip follows a set structure. They use the first two episodes to show the planning that goes on and the reasons for the trip.

Within the Long Way Up, we are treated to background footage of Charley and the horrific accident that he had.

“The latest accident in Portugal was pretty scary. I was overtaking a car on my motorbike when it clipped me, sending me careening into a wall. The thing I remember most was flying through the air and seeing the pavement and wall and thinking, ‘This is going to hurt’. It felt like my whole body had been jarred. I’ve crashed a lot in the past. I broke both legs, which is why I ended up lying in bed for three months. It was six months before I could walk on one leg.”
Bumps and breaks of Charley Boorman’s life … and near-death. Belfast Telegraph

Before this, Charely and Ewan had lost contact and the near-death nature of the accident brought them back together. This is what the show projects but I feel differently. I feel as though there could have been a level of Ewan sensing an opportunity to make a statement, using the accident as an excuse.

Those of you who know about Ewan McGregor will know that he is now divorced from his wife of more than twenty years. I have no idea why and I do not want to know. All I know is what I see and through the first two or three episodes, all we see is Ewan. His eco-friendly lifestyle and wanting to impose that on the trip.

Without him, I imagine that the trip would have gone ahead without the need for electric bikes. Without him, I doubt that the show would have grabbed the attention of Apple. The first few episodes are pure PR. If these two were truly friends then the decision would have been equal, it would feature both of them and not leave the focus on Ewan.

The Bikes

The bikes become a character on their own. The first three episodes are basically about the bikes and how they are prototypes, with Ewan and Charley being pioneers. If this was true then they would both be making statements rather than the camera always focusing on Ewan.

Make no mistake here, this is not the Long Way Round.

It is the Ewan show and Charley is along for the ride. Something that you sense at the start of the trip when the focus is always on the bike not charging, the range and Charley remaining fairly stoic. It is left to Ewan to be the clown and attempt to keep the audience engaged.

The bikes are way too much of a focus here. I applaud them for thinking of the environment but realistically, is that what you should take away from a lads holiday around the world? The backdrops are stunning, yet all they can think about is how to charge the bikes in the remote areas.

Where is Charley?

In the background. Make no mistake that this is a Ewan heavy Long Way adventure. He seems to have had his personality removed, only to be seen when his riding partner goes to get his bike repaired.

I’m not sure if this is due to missing his family, his accident, treading on eggshells around Ewan or that Ewan is going through a mid-life crisis. I have no idea what it is but regardless of the reason, it is disappointing to see.

The original documentary worked when it was just the two of them. When Ewan was happy for the limelight to be shared and he wasn’t using his star power to make a point about renewable energy.

The magic of the show for me is two friends travelling around the world, inspiring those watching to broaden their horizons. It is a platform to make points about society and the suffering going on beneath the surface. It should not be a platform for one man’s ego and desire to enact change.

This is not to say that the show is devoid of inspiration and they shouldn’t make a point about renewable energy. The problem for me is that they should not have made it the focus.

Inspiration Remains

The countries in which they pass are stunning.

The full HD footage makes the images almost tangible and in our current lockdown lives, enticing. I want to be out there on the journey with them, seeing all of these countries in their undisguised glory.

In this case, the documentary is still successful at the core. It inspires you to travel to see more of the world in which you inhabit. The problem is that the focus of the documentary is not this. It is Ewan and his desire to promote renewable energy.

We all have passions in this world. I do. My Nan passed away from Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago and anything I can do to raise awareness is something that I want to consider.

The difference between me and Ewan is that I would not bypass a lads holiday, hijack the trip and make it all about me.

We all have subjects that we are passionate about, but most of us don’t leave our friends behind to promote.

What I Would Change

Ewan.

In the simplest manner of stating, he is what is wrong with the Long Way Up. He takes what should be a once in a lifetime lads trip and bends it to his own needs.

He uses the format to make a point about sustainability and the need for change. I would imagine that most of us know about the environment and the options for changing, we don’t want to see it crowbarred into a motorcycle adventure.

I am disappointed with the show as I expected a lot, following on from watching the first two Long Ways, and waiting years for this adventure. It is standalone and loses most of that enjoyment that was developed during the initial trips.

It is the third act of a series and one that promised too much. I think that really, they waited too long. Time has changed them all and what I wanted from this adventure was a mix of Ewan and Charley, not Ewan with Charley, who almost disappears at times.

When Ewan goes to fix his bike, the initial focus is on him. We see him in his hotel room and then on the plane, and later in a car. Why? His role should be minimalised here and Charley’s increased, not the other way around.

This incident happens in the penultimate episode. I warn you now that this stretch of around ten/fifteen minutes perfectly encompasses what is wrong with the show.

A final thought

For those that watched the initial adventures, I would say that you need to watch the Long Way Up for closure.

For those that have not seen either of the initial trips then I would recommend watching those and avoiding this one. It is not enough to sell Apple TV. I almost wish that I had waited for the DVD to be reduced in two years time, as £10 (two months subscription) is expensive for what you get.

The Long Way Up is a step too far and could really have been renamed, ‘Celebrity travels around the world with a former friend to make a point’. The comradery of the first two trips is lost in this adventure and the only emotion that I am leaving this watch with is a disappointment.

I hate being so negative but scoring something that I waited so long for, at a four, you can’t help but be negative.

In terms of positivity, I can safely say that to those reading who loved the first two adventures, this entry will cure you of wanting more. It is hopefully the last. We do not need any more documentaries of this nature.

Written by

A writer of many things, all of which make him think or smile.

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