Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads – Season 1 Blu-ray Review

I generally try to avoid reality television shows but when I was asked to review The History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers, I decided to give it a shot and I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would, which you can read about right here.  When I was offered the spin-off program Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads, I was curious enough to check that out too since the danger level has escalated quite a bit since the dangerous roads the truckers now have to survive are in the Himalayas.  As dangerous as the roads in Alaska can be they are nothing compared to the one lane roads with hardly any safety barriers to prevent you from falling thousands of feet.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

Ice Road Trucker veterans Alex Debogorski, Rick Yemm, Lisa Kelly, and newcomer Dave Redmon, return to take on this even more dangerous job in India where they will transport a variety of items up some treacherous roads that are so deadly that someone dies every 4 1/2 minutes on them.  Alex and Kelly were two of the people I liked best from season four so I thought this season should be pretty good and it was but in a different way than I expected.  While driving in Alaska is very dangerous, there’s usually another truck not too far behind you that can help you out if things go badly.  Not only that, but the rescuer will most likely speak English too which helps a lot.

A lot of the humor from the season was watching the culture clash between the truckers and Indian people.  Right from the start of trying to leave Delhi, the roads are so congested and filled with absolutely insane drivers that Alex gets into two accidents before he even leaves the city!  Lucky for him, each truck has an Indian spotter riding shotgun who’s there to help navigate the unsafe roads but also acts as an interpreter and mediator between the truckers and the Indian population.  Watching Rick’s reaction to the reckless driving that is a constant threat was very funny because he had good reason to curse them as much as he did as they routinely drove in such a fashion that if it happened here, they would be locked up here for a long time.

The language barrier also was an issue for the drivers, not only during the accidents they were involved in (of which there were many), but also with their spotters with whom they had to reply on to traverse dangerous areas.  Since most of the roads date back to 206 B.C. and were part of the legendary Silk Routes, they are filled with narrow, dangerous, and blind corners without any kind of safety rail along them.  Drivers are killed daily from trying to make room for a second vehicle only to fall off the cliff.  Even when you aren’t near the edge of a cliff, you have to worry about rock ceilings overhead that can tear the roof off the truck.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also unsafe bridges that aren’t supported or have deteriorated so much that parts of the bridge raise up from the weight of the truck since there’s nothing holding down the floor of the bridge.   The truckers have a very difficult time surviving the relentless bus drivers that seem to have no fear and have no problem hitting the trucks if need be.  Much of the time the truckers are either forced to play chicken with these drivers or end up in a mexican standoff where neither side wants to allow the other to go on the one vehicle width road.   The truckers also noticed that the other drivers had no problem driving on the wrong side of the road to allow them to hug the mountain wall which forced the truckers to have to  continue along the precarious edge of the cliff.

With one trucker quitting after his experience in the very first episode, I am amazed that the others continued as long as they did.  When just driving the city streets puts your life in constant danger, it’s even more terrifying to drive on one lane roads with blind turns and no safety rail.  The camera crews showed just how close the trucks were to the edge where literally if you put your arm out the window there was no road beneath it.  Combined with the insane drivers, this was a nerve-wracking show to watch and I completely sympathized with the drivers who in some cases were trying to survive these kinds of challenges while transporting jet fuel.  Here are all of the episodes spread across three discs as originally described:
  • Freefall Freeway – Ice Road Truckers Alex Debogorski, Rick Yemm, and Lisa Kelly make a living driving the deadly ice roads of North America, but they’ve never seen anything like this.  To prove they’re the best drivers in the world, the truckers head to India to take on the extreme mountain roads of the Himalayas.  As Lisa battles the heat and struggles to make the transition from Alaska, Alex slams into not one, but two vehicles out on the crowded roadways.  Rick risks a head-on collision with multiple buses that refuse to give up an inch of road as they fly toward him at top speed.

  • Pushed to the Ledge – After surviving their first few days in India, the truckers face the most dangerous journey of their lives.  Rick and Lisa go deeper into the Himalayas and up a new stretch of road called The Ledge – a one lane cliff-side path with a rock wall on one side and a sheer thousand-foot drop on the other.  On the perilous journey up, Rick is bullied by local drivers, and Lisa panics while being forced to the edge of a cliff.  Alabama highway trucker Dave Redmon joins the team and quickly has the most terrifying ride of his career.  With one trucker already beaten by these roads, one of these three veterans may be the next to surrender.

  • Facing Fears – Alabama trucker Dave Redmon stares down the notorious Freefall Freeway in a truck that is in horrible need of repair.  Roadside maintenance costs him valuable time and he must face driving the roads with terrifying drop-offs at night or risk being late with his very first load.  Lisa heads back up to The Ledge, the narrow stretch of road that caused her to quit the last time she drove it.  But this time, a flat tire leaves her teetering on the edge of the abyss.  And the crowded roads finally bring Rick to the breaking point.  The oncoming traffic sends him into an angry fit on the side of the road and when his greatest rival – the aggressive bus driver- attempts to pass him on a narrow stretch, Rick refuses to back down, even with oncoming traffic bearing down on them both.

  • Death is a Blind Corner Away – When the mountain begins to crumble underfoot, Lisa is in grave danger with an oversized nine-ton load in tow.  The unstable road gives way and claims its first victims.  Fearing the worst about Lisa, Rick gets news from home that forces him to make a decision that will determine his fate in the Himalayas.  Dave’s close scrape with the side of an oncoming bus causes the angry occupants to surround his vehicle in a showdown on a narrow ledge, a thousand feet up.

  • Crumbling Roads – After receiving more good news from home, Rick decides to stay.  He and Lisa drive higher into the Himalayas than ever before with fragile statues of a Hindu goddess.  Rock-slides and tight roads force the drivers into dangerous situations, and risk breaking the sacred statue – making the whole trip worthless.  Dave tackles the notorious “Ledge” for the first time, all while dealing with an over-sized load and oncoming traffic.

  • Thin Air – After conquering the Freefall Freeway, the Cutouts, and the Ledge, all three drivers climb higher, to over 13,000 feet, as they tackle the Rohtang Pass for the first time.  Rick delivers a sacred Buddha statue between monasteries.  Lisa brings much needed supplies into Keylong–a city normally cut off by snowy winters.  Now the snow’s melting, and roads are falling apart under rivers and gushing waterfalls.

  • Cut Off! – After a severe storm strands Rick, Lisa, and Dave in Keylong, Rick leads the charge back over the Rohtang Pass, betting against Mother Nature and the dangerous road.  Dave and Rick deal with an aggressive Indian driver, and after the drivers hit their boiling point, they all get caught in a landslide.

  • Overloaded – Tensions hit a high point between Lisa her spotter Tashi, forcing Lisa to think about saying goodbye to Tashi and forging ahead alone.  Dave’s forced to stop in the middle of his run to deal with his overweight load.  Rick battles through illness to make his trip on time, giving everything he can into delivering on time.

  • Pile of Corpses – A snowstorm threatens to cut the drivers’ runs short atop the Rohtang pass.  Rick’s spotter Boyo leaves Rick for a better job, forcing Rick to go it alone.  Lisa and Dave drive as fast as they can to beat the storm, but are slowed by mobs of people on the pass.  All three drivers get caught driving in darkness and Lisa battles fatigue–struggling to stay awake.

  • Explosive Cargo – As the season comes to a close, the drivers have one last assignment, and it’s their most dangerous and important: deliver barrels of aviation fuel for helicopter rescue missions.  Rick and Lisa are going on alone, with no spotters to help on the snowy roads.  Dave learns he’s not out of the woods yet and gets in yet another accident.  And at the end, only one driver competes the final load.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

The show’s 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is pleasing to the eye and offers some nice detail and clarity.  The daytime shots are excellent and sharp while the nighttime shots aren’t as good and occasionally have some electronic noise but overall this is a nice presentation.  Colors are vivid which is appreciated with all of the varied colors available from the trucks themselves to the Indian wardrobes and locations.  Black levels are decent and contrast is very nice.  This is all even more impressive when you consider the danger these camera people were in while filming this.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also nice and does a good job capturing all of the atmosphere of India.  Dialogue is always clear (even if I don’t understand what the Indian people are saying), especially during the scenes of an accident where a small mob of people converge.  The front speakers are primarily used but the other satellite speakers get a little bit of action too.  While this mix may not be that powerful, it does provide the perfect amount needed for this kind of show.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)

The only extra included is a lot of deleted footage that shows a variety of different scenes such as the truckers arriving at the airport and traveling to the trucking company, taking the doors off the trucks to get some air, confessions about how they feel about being there and driving on the roads, and more.  I don’t think these scenes were deleted due to quality but more for time, as they were all pretty good and helped fill out the overall picture.  Giving each of the truckers a little more time to to express themselves while not having to try to avoid driving off a cliff adds a lot of understanding about who they are as people.  I think some of this should have been kept in the show itself.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

If you like Ice Road Truckers then you should love this show.  This is a truly dangerous location for the truckers to drive in and it doesn’t help that they have to avoid both animals and the other drivers around them who are a menace to society.  The show also offers a look at India and some of its people, which allows viewers to see and experience another culture and place vicariously.  I was shocked at how a lot of the Indian people responded to Lisa, with the reactions ranging from pointing and staring to brazenly trying to force their way into her truck.  I don’t know if it was because they haven’t seen many blond women before or if it was just because she was a female trucker.  Either way, it was disturbing to watch and it was good to see Lisa’s fellow truckers come to her defense.  This show has erased any desire I may have had to drive anywhere in India, but at the same time it allowed me to see the many sights of the country from the safety of my living room.

Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads will be released May 24, 2011.  Pre-order your copy today!


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