Documentary Film Review: Into the Empty Quarter By Leon McCarron and Alastair Humphreys

Just by chance, yesterday I ended up watching Ben Fogle and James Cracknell going into the Empty Quarter on BBC. I also saw my old mate Mussalem Bin Hassan in the background which was pretty much the only part I enjoyed of this film. It was another TV-production from the UK backed by a fair amount of money, backup trucks and God knows what and performed by people who wants the life style as explorers, but are, as I see it, not even close. It is all image, extreme personal drama for nothing and it makes me scared for the future of British Exploration. Far too much focus on these two persons entering a world they know little about and don´t seem to want to know anything about, a reality Wilfried Thesiger would have loathed had he been alive and very little about the people they come across. How can anyone watching this find it interesting year in and year out since there´s so much of it? It has become so….unreal, fake and heartless. And, on top of that, these two showed a total disregard for the camels! Just the idea to set off, with no knowledge on how to take care, pack, feed, brush and treat camels (this takes months of training!), plus not using not the fittest and most trained camels (this fact was easy to see for anyone who knows anything about camels), is just as low as it gets. This is not exploration, this is nothing more than another poor self absorbed British production.

So, this morning at the same time I was putting my daughter to sleep, I watched Leon McCarron and Alastair Humphreys version of their journey into the Empty Quarter. I have briefly met them, communicated more, but like them a lot and didn´t really feel too much fear that it would be another walk down the same tiresome copycat documentary lane which are produced in endless amounts by British production companies. But than again, the pressures of society are strong, so I wouldn´t have been surprised if this had been the case. I shouldn´t have worried.

Alastair and Leon are the new guys on the block, which will turn British Exploration down the right track away from people with inherited wealth, at the top of the British class system and all focus on their own heroics. They´re self funded (this journey cost them a mere 3000 pounds all included, which I find almost impossible to understand!), do all their camera work themselves and they come away with a very interesting and important documentary from this misunderstood part of the globe emphasizing the great people they came across. I know this area well, almost very well, having had the idea of going from east to west by camel, but ending up doing it in parts of Yemen instead. I say this because I think they have made a very honest, down to earth, truly genuine and true film about the area. And I agree with Alastair´s comment at the end, this part of the world IS better off than in the time off Thesiger, absolutely! More possibilities for everyone, less fear.

I feel very inspired, relieved and happy after watching two of Britain’s great future explorers showing a very humble view of a very interesting area of our world. Do not miss this documentary!

Into The Empty Quarter – Official HD Trailer from Alastair Humphreys on Vimeo.


One comment

  1. Right on. The camel boys film had such a focus on their personal journey, kind of to the exclusion of all else. I have no problem with the feelings of the adventurers being important, even forming a narrative arc, but the BBC really played it up, making it more like an episode of Big Brother than what I had expected- especially with the private ‘confession’ video tapes they made sort of bitching about each other.

    Alastair and Leon however really seemed to want to be there. They kind of half-assed their cart, but that’s fine since they were the only ones who ended up suffering- nothing like taking like animals out and half-assing it. Plus they enjoyed it. It did seem like they walked on roads a lot, but that allowed for interactions, which made the film that much more interesting. And it felt like a far more natural arc, to stick to achieving the jounrey, while documenting the highs and lows, than the camel-trek, which was almost all lows.

    Still, both impressive achievements. I enjoyed both. But less melodrama. that’s more about how the BBC presented the camel trek than what the camel guys did, but still…

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