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Route 66: Marathon Tour
Take a trip across the country and back in time and re-discover the America of years gone by on the historic Route 66. Called the Main Street of America, it linked east and west for nearly 60 memorable years and became part of our national folklore in the process. More than 2400 miles of roadside diners, small towns, tepee-shaped motels and frozen custard stands helped thread the fabric of America. Many journeymen and dreamers traveled its storied path west in fulfillment of their hopes for glory and prosperity.
For more about Route 66: Marathon Tour and the Route 66: Marathon Tour Blu-ray release, see the Route 66: Marathon Tour Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 17, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 1.5 out of 5.
Route 66: Marathon Tour Blu-ray Review
Turn back. You're going the wrong way...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 17, 2012
There are two kinds of people in the United States: those with Route 66 road sign magnets on their refrigerators and those without. For those who make regular pilgrimages to the Mother Road, though, Route 66 isn't just a gift shop magnet or even a historic, oft-forgotten highway; it's a passion, a trip back in time, a pre-interstate journey through mid-20th century America, a return to a simpler era, or a little bit of all four. Stretching 2,450 miles -- from Chicago to Los Angeles -- the Main Street of America is home to countless towns, landmarks, motels, diners, gas stations, roadside attractions, museums, and local hotspots, not to mention everyday men and women who keep Route 66 alive in the hearts and minds of tourists, travelers and visitors from all across the country.
Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66 -- the long concrete path across the country, waving gently, up and down on the map, from the Mississippi to Bakersfield -- over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys. 66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight. -- George Steinbeck, from "The Grapes of Wrath"
Route 66: Marathon Tour is just that: a 14-episode marathon tour of Route 66 that begins in Illinois, winds through Missouri and Oklahoma, dips into northern Texas, cuts across New Mexico and Arizona, and ends in California, in the very city that helped immortalize it at its prime. And while the once-great road is no longer in service, the culture it created lives on. After an overview of the birth, rise and decline of Route 66, the series slowly begins assembling a collection of personal stories, memories and reflections from Route 66 townspeople, vacationers, historians, business owners and, of course, those who remember the highway in its heyday. Slowly but surely, the residents and regulars weave a communal tale of the historic highway, from its local flavor to its economic struggles to its place in pop culture and American history.
Quaint and kitschy as the tour may be, everyone involved -- both behind and in front of the cameras -- shares a reverence for the road. The local Route 66ers are proud of the little slice of cross-country heaven they've carved out for themselves, and even more proud to be a part of the highway's enduring legacy. And it isn't just pride. A sense of real purpose and joy presides over every car show, community event, regional gathering, concert and celebration that occurs, even those that border on the dull and mundane. That doesn't mean the series is terribly exciting, mind you. If you've never felt the desire to take a three-month road trip across middle America, Marathon Tour isn't going to inspire you to start saving cash and looking for deals on used RVs. The people interviewed are friendly enough, but most of them have the wide-eyed gaze of amateurs tossed in front of the camera. And the production is serviceable I suppose, even though the episodes smack of public-broadcasting production values. No, this is a niche series for a niche audience, and you already know if you're a part of the Route 66 crowd.
Marathon Tour is best served as a vacation prep video; a tool for those planning their own treks across the country. Its scope isn't quite wide enough for history buffs, its reviews of the various destinations aren't discriminating enough to appeal to students of culture or custodians of Americana, and its affection for Route 66 runs too deep to offer any legitimate cultural perspective or historical context. No, it's the sort of thing a grown man's parents would sit down to watch, pencil and paper in hand, before setting out for three weeks with a furiously scribbled list of little-known places to go and off-the-beaten-track sights to see. (If it sounds as if I'm speaking from personal experience, it's because I am. I already passed Marathon Tour to my mom and dad, now in their 60s, as they're already planning another annual Midwest-to-Southwest excursion.) Suffice it to say, judge this one by its cover. If it calls to you, answer. If it doesn't, don't let its low price point lure you in.
Marathon Tour's episodes include:
2. The Journey Begins
3. From Joliet to Funk's Grove
4. McLean to Springfield
5. Litchfield to Meramec Caverns
6. From Cuba to Lebanon Missouri
7. Carthage to Baxter Springs
8. Miami to Tulsa
9. From Stroud to Clinton
10. Erick to Adrian
11. Tucumcari to Flagstaff Arizona
12. Navajo to Flagstaff Arizona
13. The Grand Canyon to Seligman AZ
14. The End of the Road
Route 66: Marathon Tour Blu-ray, Video Quality
Route 66: Marathon Tour rides into town with a deficient, nearly unwatchable 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 encode (at an offset 1.83:1 aspect ratio) that is, hands down, the worst video presentation I've ever encountered. Macroblocking and artifacting litter the screen, severe and rampant aliasing reduces entire scenes to migraine-inducing abominations, banding and ruthless compression glitches abound, garish pulldown anomalies and oscillating diagonal lines are persistent eyesores, mosquito noise and thick edge halos are everywhere, and the image (not the disc, mind you) frequently freezes, skips, breaks down, shudders, splits, splinters, or briefly shatters into a jumbled mess of blocks and pixels. And that's just the technical encode. The series itself isn't much to look at. Colors are rather flat, black levels are decent but inconsistent, softness and smearing take a perpetual toll, clarity is a joke, and fine detail and textures are non-existent. Yes, the vintage photos featured throughout the series aren't quite so unsightly -- they fare pretty well actually -- but static images shouldn't be the highpoint of the presentation. At its best, Route 66 might remind tourists and travelers of a $1.99 rest stop DVD. At its worst, though, it's no better than a faulty, poorly produced standard definition YouTube video.
Route 66: Marathon Tour Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Route 66's lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track isn't much better, although there's an argument to be made that it at least gets the job done. Well, a job done. Even so, The Blu-ray edition of Marathon Tour once again amounts to a bargain bin DVD, complete with flat narration, interviews stifled by occasionally muffled voices, mediocre recording equipment, wind noise, air hiss and other environmental hazards, and a pinched, at-times tinny music score that doesn't fill the soundscape or warrant much praise. Ultimately, the lack of LFE support, rear speaker activity, involving sound design and, really, anything that might justify the series' high definition incarnation begs the question: why release Marathon Tour on BD at all? No one should be inspired to drop the word "YouTube" when reviewing any Blu-ray, and yet it seems the most concise and accurate descriptor available.
Route 66: Marathon Tour Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Two extras are included: a look at the lifelong relationship between Route 66 and the Chevrolet Corvette called "Birth of a Legend" (HD, 12 minutes) and a slide show of Route 66 photos (HD, 2 minutes).
Route 66: Marathon Tour Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you can get past its basement-bottom production values, Route 66: Marathon Tour has some charm. Enough to keep Old Road fanatics trucking through six-plus hours of Route 66 towns, diners, gas stations, local hotspots and roadside attractions? That depends entirely on how long you can stomach the 3-disc set's subpar AV presentation. Its video encode is the absolute worst I've ever encountered, its lossy Dolby Digital stereo track isn't much better, and its supplemental package amounts to fifteen minutes of inconsequential content. Skip this thirteen-car pileup. Low price or no, Marathon Tour is definitely a case of you get what you pay for.
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