Clarkson: Heaven and Hell
I'll be entirely frank, I don't like Jeremy Clarkson very much. I suspect that at some point early in his life, he decided that it was necessary for someone to remind us that the French are smelly, that BMW's are Nazi staff cars and that Italians are as crooked as a dog's hind leg. He has adopted a personality that, as an Englishman, suggests he would have been happier with Queen Victoria on the throne and with an Empire that stretched from London to the far reaches of the globe rather than Blair and the Scottish having their own parliament. He is a friend of AA Gill, the toadying columnist who would be damned to Hell for all of eternity were there only an eighth deadly sin for smugness. He is, as he is often fond of pointing out about cars that he dislikes, rather pointless.
Yet, I find myself drawn to him as the man himself is to Ferrari. Despite it being populated by what looks to be his son (Richard Hammond) and the nice-but-dull geography teacher whom Jeremy got to know at a parent-and-teacher meeting (James May), there remains something about Top Gear that's still quite fun. Where he could be a cliche, he does demonstrate some strains of unique thought and despite his foolish insistence that Ferrari is a better car maker than Lamborghini, he does make good television with his making the case for Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the Great Britons series being one of his very best.
Most disturbingly of all, though, is that I must share some deep-seated connection with the man as he honeymooned in Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands, which is also where I was destined until a hurricane almost destroyed the hotel three days before my wedding. And how, if I so dislike the man, do I know that? I read it in his book, Planet Dagenham. Yes...I read a Jeremy Clarkson book and now, with Clarkson: Heaven And Hell, I own a Clarkson DVD. You can ask, quite fairly, how much I have to dislike someone before I neither read their books nor own their DVDs.
Clarkson: Heaven And Hell - the title comes from its star nominating certain vehicles for Car Heaven whilst damning others to Hell - is a seventy-two minute follow up to last year's Hot Metal and features a series of clips of Clarkson racing some very fine cars about a test track whilst finding various means to destroy those that he is less enamoured with. Unsurprisingly, there is much footage of Ferraris - the Enzo, 430 and the 612 Scaglietti all feature - whilst Clarkson also nominates the new BMW M5, the Aston Martin DB9 and the TVR Sagaris as his cars of the year. If you've seen one fast car race about the Top Gear test track, you'll know exactly what to expect here as several cars are either raced on their own or against others - the Stig's Ferrari 430 is pitted against Clarkson's M5 at one stage - but whilst he presenter looks to be having a fine old time, the viewer may find their heart fails to miss at beat at the sight of yet another fast car drifting sideways over the tarmac.
Away from the fast cars, though, and in a series of less-than-thrilling machines including a Renault Espace, a Citroen 2CV, a Triumph TR7, a Ford Scorpio and a Mini Metro, Clarkson makes his point before destroying the vehicle. Hence, the Escpace first has its roof removed before it is chopped in half whilst the presenter takes a sledge hammer to a Perodua Kelisa. It may well be somewhat exciting to see a TR7 and a Scorpio take place in a jousting contest with one another, I can't help but feel that Clarkson's targets are all rather easy. Yes, the Mini Metro is a dreadful car but it's quite obviously a dreadful car and the segment feels cheap.
There is, though, the obvious problem that what connects all of this is Jeremy Clarkson, which takes us back to where we first came in. He's certainly not bad in this and that he knows his way around a test track is not in question but at seventy-two minutes, Heaven And Hell features too much of him and what laddishness he's increasingly desperate to hang onto, including his use of a lap dancer stripping behind his Ferrari Enzo to demonstrate the lack of rear visibility. He's not dull, though, and whilst this is a cheaply produced DVD, it offers equally cheap thrills.
If you have seen Top Gear in the last couple of years, you'll know exactly what to expect - anamorphic 1.78:1 picture with Clarkson's face often taking up much of the screen, intercut with footage of cars racing about a test track. The picture is fine but largely functional - colours are slightly muted, brightness is a touch too harsh and detail is almost non-existent - and neither better nor worse than the standard picture quality that you might enjoy on digital satellite broadcasting. As for the audio track, there are two options - the default stereo track with an alternate soundtrack that removes Clarkson's narration in favour of the noise from the engines. As with the picture, it's functional and barely worthy of note but it serves its purpose.
There are no bonus features on this release.
If any of my children ever buy me a Clarkson DVD, I may disown them but I suspect that many fathers will be opening this come Christmas Day and will doubtless enjoy the rather staid thrills that it offers. Frankly, though, I'd rather have had a DVD release of his entry in the Great Britons series than this. In fact, even the What Not To Wear that featured him would have been more entertaining than this and as the final credits rolled, the memory of Alan Partridge during his lost, documentary-and-chocolate-filled years came to mind, which really isn't a recommendation. For dads who've almost given up entirely, this will make a worthy stocking filler but, otherwise, buy Ronin or The French Connection and enjoy some real racing.