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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Additional footage - Video Diary
  • Deleted scenes
  • Animated menus
  • Interviews - Michael Palin

Michael Palin - Sahara

Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 236 mins . PG . PAL


Most of us would remember Michael Palin as a member of the legendary comedy troupe, Monty Python. They were the team that gave us Monty Python's Flying Circus, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and of course, The Life of Brian as well as a whole collection of other products, by-products, spin-offs, and miscellaneous assorted tat.

What then possesses a wealthy comedian to set off on an extended and, some would say, pointless expedition to cross one of the harshest areas on the planet? I guess in the immortal words of that other great adventurer (whose name escapes me), "Because it is there."

This is not Michael Palin's first documentary series. Many will recall Around the World in 80 Days and his Hemingway Adventures, and will therefore know what to expect. Palin is no David Attenborough, but he does not purport to be. What you get is a man with a passion for adventure and travel, presenting his travelogue in almost home-video style, capturing events as he experiences them.

Sahara opens with Palin in Gibraltar and follows his adventures through, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia (including a visit to the places where The Life of Brian was filmed. Travels includes those made by train, four-wheel drive, boat and barge, car, camel and just about anything that has the potential to move. Along the way, he meets the most amazing range of characters, locals, warriors, hunters, refugees, ex-pats, government officials and tribal elders. Famous landmarks visited include the Niger River, Timbuktu, Casablanca, the Kasbah and Dakar.

At every turn, and every potential disaster, Palin greets people and this project with optimism, interest, and a sense of humour. His ability to speak basic French undoubtedly makes things a little easier, but his willingness to get involved is both infectious for viewers, as well as the people he meets on his journey.

There are several short history lessons along the way from both Palin, and the various local guides and artists that seem keen to share their knowledge and love of their various homelands, and adopted homelands.

The four one-hour episodes are an interesting look at a part of the world that does not receive much interest from travelers. It is unlikely that any of these countries are going to win tourism awards anytime soon, but for those with a desire to see something that isn't presented all that often, then this series is recommended. The Sahara is still no tourist Mecca, and is unlikely to see hordes of tourists descending upon the region, but after seeing this those with a taste for unusual, somewhat challenging, and cheap holiday destination, may ponder packing their rucksack for a truly unique adventure.


Superb is the word that comes to mind, with only one slight, and brief, flaw. Sahara is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced, so you can see those miles and miles of shifting desert sands in all their widescreen glory. The sharpness is exemplary and fine on-screen detail is the result.

Colours, being of utmost importance in a documentary series, are almost faultless and the opening shot of the Union Jack blowing in the breeze almost bursts out of the screen. There is very natural colour reproduction and skins tones, desert sands, blue skies, and that sand, all look wonderful. The only blemish would seem to be a couple of minutes in episode two that appear to have some colour fluctuations that are not overly distracting, and are quickly gone.

Shadow detail is excellent, black levels are mostly great apart from the few minutes in the second episode as discussed. There are no artefacts to speak of, and there are no marks, flecks, spots, or dust to be seen. Grain is also virtually non-existent, and there is no evidence of any chroma or low-level noise.

In summary, this is a near perfect visual treat. Even the layer changes are hidden so as not be detected.


Although there is no 5.1 audio option, the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo scrubs up rather well. The sound range is excellent, with deep rich low-level sounds that are tested immediately by way of cannon fire, and the high-level sounds are equally as impressive. The narrated dialogue is faultless, as is most of the dialogue on film, with occasional background interference making things sometimes hard to understand. But hey, this is the Sahara and sandstorms, crowded marketplaces and noisy animals are part of the atmosphere.

There is some noticeable separation and panning, but it is not overly important in the big scheme of things. There are no problems with synchronisation or volume fluctuations.

The accompanying music is appropriately African and lends a great feel to the feature.


There is well over an extra hour of footage included in the DVD release that you won't see on television, and all of it is interesting and worthy of inclusion had it not been for time constraints.

Disc One includes a Video Diary, 24:52 minutes of extra footage featuring Palin talking to the camera at various points along the way. It really looks like a video diary, giving a more personal account than the feature. It is presented in a full-frame aspect ratio, and in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Disc Two includes almost a half an hour of Deleted Scenes that were omitted purely because of time constraints, and are of the same quality and technical specifications as the feature. They are segmented and introduced by Palin and can be viewed separately or as one presentation.

There is also an Interview with Michael Palin that lasts just under 16 minutes and features Palin answering a series of questions that we do not actually hear. Presented with the same specifications as the Deleted Scenes.


If like most people, BBC executives included, you thought the Sahara was just a big sand dune with little in it and certainly nothing of interest, then spend some time with Michael Palin on his four month journey and be surprised, interested and amused at the number of wonders that this most desolate of environments has to offer. The diversity of life is astounding, the resilience of the people is remarkable, and the ingenuity of the human species is staggering. The Sahara is still not up there on my list of travel destinations, but hey, at least now it's on the list.

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      And I quote...
    "So you think you know all about the Sahara - it's all sand, heat and a few camels, right? Wrong, as this documentary series from Monty Python's Michael Palin will prove... "
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
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          Pioneer VSX-D409
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          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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