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Top Gear: The Complete Season 16(TV) (2011)
The 16th season of the popular British automotive show.
For more about Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 and the Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray release, see Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 10, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May, The Stig
» See full cast & crew
Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray Review
Living life 0.402336 kilometers at a time, nothing else matters...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 10, 2011
I keep waiting for Top Gear to wear out its welcome. At its core, the popular UK motoring series is a formulaic variety show, and it only sets itself apart by... well, quite a lot actually. It may be chained to a familiar formula at this point-- sixteen seasons into its 2002 relaunch (seasons or series, depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside) -- but it remains a fiercely addicting one nonetheless. Cheeky hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are knowledgeable and hilarious (although some might tuck mildly offensive into that description), their track-sizzling races and quirky challenges are bolstered by a blend of deadpan comedy, motorsports enthusiasm and accessible auto-info, their celebrity guests are a blast (thanks in large part to the series' Reasonably Priced Car laps) and their banter, reviews and news coverage never seems to grow old. You don't even need to be a gear head, or rattle off the differences between, say, a Mastretta MXT and a Ferrari 458 Italia, to enjoy the series at every turn. And The Complete Season 16? It's as strong as any to date, and should rope in newcomers and give series regulars alike.
Disc One kicks off with "Episode 1," which isn't the first episode of Series 16 at all. Not exactly, anyway. It's the show's 2010 holiday special; an alternate version of the 52-minute USA Road Trip (found on Disc Three as a bonus feature) that boasts portions of Clarkson, Hammond and May's USA Road Trip, as well as bits at the Top Gear studio. Between visiting the Virginia International Raceway and slowly weaving through New York traffic, the trio discuss Christmas gift ideas (bacon air fresheners, steering wheel coasters, Nascar nail clippers and models of internal combustion engines top the list), chat up 127 Hours director Danny Boyle (who then straps into the crew's Reasonably Priced Car, a Kia Cee'd, for an impressive run on the Top Gear track), and reflect on their trip to the US, which was slightly derailed when they realized Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway wasn't all it was cracked up to be. "Episode 2" -- the first official episode of Series 16 but the third broadcast episode after the 2010 USA Road Trip and Middle East specials, the latter of which is also available on Disc Three (try not to get too confused) -- finds the Top Gear gear heads gushing over the 900+ horsepower Ariel Atom V8 ("more clever than a rocket bolted to a roller skate"), reviewing the gorgeous Jaguar CX75 super-hybrid, talking about the new Lancia Stratos, plowing through the troubles surrounding fuel prices and electric cars, road testing the 4WD Skoda Yeti mini-SUV, welcoming comedian John Bishop for an interview and RPC lap, and pitting a VW Beetle against a Porsche 997 Turbo S Cabriolet... albeit not in the way you might expect.
"Episode 3" is as entertaining as any other; perhaps more so. (Does Top Gear ever run out of gas? Short answer? No.) Clarkson, Hammond and May accept a five-event challenge from Top Gear Australia presenters Ewen Page ("who does not have a beard," Clarkson chides), Steve Pizzati ("who does") and Shane Jacobson ("who is fat"); a contest of wits, wills and wiles that spirals out of control. (Well, as out of control as the droll Brits tend to spiral.) As usual, Clarkson and company hit a nice balance between turbo-charged comedy, motor-facts and speedway education, and the results are as funny as they are engaging. Along the way, the UK trio return to the studio to criticize the Mini Countryman (Clarkson: "it gave me crabs"), look at the Pagani Huayra and the Ford Focus, investigate the 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO (which is so rare that Clarkson isn't able to drive it due to insurance costs), mid-80s 288 GTO and the new 599 GTO, and interview German tennis pro Boris Becker. "Episode 4" sees Clarkson, Hammond and May traveling to Albania at the behest of the Albanian mafia to test the Rolls-Royce Ghost, the Mercedes S-Class AMG and the Bentley Mulsanne... except Bentley declines at the last minute, leaving Clarkson in the driver's seat of a Yugo. When they aren't offering the mob tips, they turn their attention to automated Honda technologies (specifically a hat that reads neural signals transmitted by hair), the 4WD Ferrari FF hatchback and Simon Cowell's Rolls-Royce Phantom, interview television and radio presenter Jonathan Ross, and review the Subaru Impreza STI Cosworth CS400, the Ford Focus RS500 and the Volvo C30 Performance Concept.
In "Episode 5," the hosts are given £2000 a piece to buy three four-seat convertibles. But when they buy the same car, the BMW 325i, the crafty presenters decide to see which fares better: the 1987, 1988 or 1989 model. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or studio as it were), Clarkson, Hammond and May discuss evaluating and purchasing used cars, accidents and fatalities at speed-camera sites, eliminating magpies from the face of the Earth and the history of the Pagani Zonda, welcome actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to the stage, and test and review the McLaren MP4-12C, the V12 Pagani Zonda R and, ever so briefly, the new BMW 325i. It's the most tangential (and I'd say weakest) Series 16 outing, but only compared to other Top Gear entries. "Episode 6" is more focused, even if modified combine harvesters -- yes, modified combines -- make for an odd launching pad of sorts. (Funny as the show may be, there's always more going on beneath its hood than might first appear, even if it leads to an embarrassing airplane crash.) They also cover news about an upcoming Nissan concept car (driven by a fictional, wholly mockable everyman named Daniel), the next James Bond spy car, the differences between the Ford and Ferrari F-150's, and 11-letter vanity plates, see how the latest BMW M3 Competition Pack stacks up to previous M3's (free preview: not so well), review the bell-n-whistle-loaded Audi RS5, interview Drive Angry actress Amber Heard and try to solve their country's economic woes (at least in part).
Coming around the bend, "Episode 7" brings Series 16 to a fast and furious close as Hammond slips behind the respective wheels of the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40 (as does the Stig, who has trouble with both) and Clarkson races the rotation of the Earth in a Jaguar XJ. Seriously. "A big Jag versus God." Elsewhere, Clarkson, Hammond and May rant about F1 cars on figure-8 tracks, falling speed limits (Clarkson: "speed limits are like herpes") and BMW eco-flavoring, interview former Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State John Prescott, pay a much overdue visit to the Cool Wall, and chat about the Aston Marten Virage, the record-breaking twin-engine Peugeot EX-1 roadster, NASA's recent cuts, and the rising and falling stars in the automotive world. With each passing episode, Top Gear manages to keep things fresh and funny without losing sight of the spark and surprise that make it such a week-to-week delight. Much of the series' charm rests with its hosts, true. But there's a sense that the show would go on even if they weren't available, so long as it retained the wild wit and momentum it's established from the beginning. If you haven't had the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about, be sure to toss Top Gear into your rental queue. If you're well aware of the motoring joys it provides, add this one to your cart post haste.
Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like BBC's previous Top Gear Blu-ray releases, The Complete Season 16 features a commendable but problematic 1080i/AVC-encoded presentation that, for the most part, isn't going to dash anyone's hopes. The studio segments fare particularly well, with bold colors, lifelike skintones, satisfying blacks, decently resolved fine detail and little to no compression or encoding anomalies. Closeups exhibit an array of textures, edge definition is quite sharp and I doubt the image could look much better. (1080i video resolution notwithstanding.) But when Clarkson, Hammond and May venture outside of the well-lit Top Gear studio, inconsistencies and imperfections begin to take a toll. Aliasing, artifacting and noise accompany many a challenge (mainly due to the cameras being used), ringing is a frequent offender, in-car shots are rather unsightly, and ever-changing weather conditions leave a mark. Even so, there isn't much to suggest BBC Video has delivered anything less than a solid interlaced presentation, and most, if not all, of the grievances videophiles might lay at the feet of the studio are attributable to the series' source, not the quality of the high definition encode.
Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
And like Season 14 and Season 15, The Complete Season 16 sputters and putters out of the garage with a serviceable but decidedly unremarkable 448kbps Dolby Digital stereo mix. Voices are clean, clear and seemingly impervious to anything disastrous (barring heavy winds and other unavoidable environmental factors), engines are as powerful as the front-speakers can convey, and the show's music doesn't overcrowd the soundscape... but that's about it. The LFE channel and rear speakers have no role in the proceedings, and directionality and immersion is a moot point. It's a real shame too, especially considering how amazing the crew's roaring roadsters and exotic super-beasts would sound via a lossless mix. No, it isn't the sort of disappointment that should give Top Gear fans much pause -- Series 16 was, after all, originally broadcast in lossy stereo -- but that's a poor excuse and little consolation.
Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 3-disc Blu-ray release of Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 includes a variety of extras, including two different versions of the 2010 USA Road Trip special, the 2010 Middle East special, a few celebrity laps, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes goodies, all presented in high definition.
Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Considering I just fell for Top Gear earlier this year (Series 14 was my first), I may very well still be in the honeymoon stage of my relationship with the show. So fair warning. That said, even after plowing through season after season on Netflix over the last few months, I remain amazed at how fresh, funny and entertaining the show is, episode after episode. Series 16 is no exception. Clarkson, Hammond and May have once again delivered the goods and have yet to wear out their welcome (at least in my house). The Blu-ray edition of The Complete Season 16 has a few problems -- primarily its lossy stereo track and its lack of behind-the-scenes materials -- but the episodes themselves make it easy to overlook such shortcomings, as does the 3-disc set's video quality. No, the BBC release of Season 16 (or Series 16, if you prefer) isn't perfect, but that shouldn't prevent fans from picking it up or dissuade newcomers from taking the show for a spin.
Top Gear: Other Seasons
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Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 Blu-ray - June 17, 2011
BBC and Warner Home Video are partnering to bring the latest season of the popular British automotive series Top Gear to Blu-ray. All seven of episodes of the show's 16th season will hit streets on August 9th with a SRP of $29.99.
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