Fuck the Travel Channel.
There are no tropical beaches, Italian villas or ancient ruins here: In their place, “The Vice Guide to Travel” gives us Pakistani gun markets, South American slums and the epicenter of nuclear disaster.
It’s only appropriate that the minds behind the subversive Vice magazine and dorm-room staple “The Vice Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” would make their first foray into film a twisted take on the most leisurely of subjects: travel programming.
Resembling an episode of “60 Minutes,” the DVD is composed of seven segments following the magazine’s founders and correspondents on trips, each with its own specific purpose. The big draw for viewers is the sense of exploration of locales casually mentioned in news briefs or history classes as the epicenters of crime, poverty and corruption despite continued humanitarian efforts.
Almost all reasons behind the ubiquitous proclamations of society’s gradual destruction are here. Founder Shane Smith travels to Chernobyl, the site of the most devastating nuclear disaster in history, to explore the abandoned schools, neighborhoods and parks left behind after evacuation. In typical Vice fashion of emotionally detached humor in dire situations, the visiting Smith slurs drunkenly while trying to hunt for mutant animals that supposedly live in the “Red Forest,” where the dense growth serves as a sponge for radioactive emissions.
Other trips include a visit to the infamous favelas, or slums, of Rio that served as ground zero for “City of God” and Brazil’s vicious drug market. Gunshots, drug-kingpin-sponsored parties and tales of inescapable poverty and death take centerstage. The dire images reveal an area too dangerous for typical television crews. Stories of journalists being killed for filming a concert where a drug lord may appear are told to an American journalist dressed in a TV-reporter-style suit – a perfect indictment for American people’s ignorance of the rest of the world’s local problems.
The correspondents also explore the global hotspots for the war on terrorism not shown on CNN or Fox News. Lebanese boy scouts sing nursery rhymes about Jews being dogs and watch cartoons preparing them for the supposed glory of martyrdom through suicide bombs. Perhaps even more frightening is a discussion in Bulgaria with a residential developer who showed leftover Soviet warheads to Osama Bin Laden and a trip to the typically forbidden territories of Pakistani gun markets that supply the mujahideen, militants opposing Indian rule.
With disconnected segments, it’s inevitable that the viewer will benchmark the clips against each other, and there are obvious subpar pieces. A trip to Nueva Germania, a former Nazi colony established in the mountains of Paraguay, becomes a meandering mess as the visitor attempts to search for remaining followers and form a story arc. Likewise, the search for a dinosaur in the dangerous forests of Congo is derailed. But his excuse, a hallucinogenic trip courtesy of a local concoction, transforms his journey into something else entirely.
The obvious downside of the DVD is the brevity of the segments. At only approximately eight minutes each, the viewer gets a narrow glimpse at societies hardly explored on film before. Special features, including clips from the trip and a visit to China with David Cross (“Arrested Development”), might appease some after the DVD’s abrupt end, as will the accompanying 72-page book, which features interviews with the travelers and provides anecdotes detailing their experiences with everything from Iranian gangsters to African prostitutes.
Vice still leaves fans hoping that the “Guide to Travel” is only the first of a bold and captivating series visiting the places we’ve always wanted to see, but were never allowed – or were too afraid – to go.
– The DVD can be previewed and ordered at http://www.viceland.com/guidetotravel/.
Clips: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
Special Features: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
The Vice Guide to Travel