“F*ck,” screams Richard Hammond.
He’s strapped into a dune buggy dangling hundreds of feet in the air.
“What the f*ck is this?”
What the **** indeed.
Top Gear under Clarkson, Hammond and May always believed that more was more – more power, more explosions, more everything. But with the unlimited funds of Amazon at their disposal, more is now a ****-tonne more.
Much about The Grand Tour – the trio’s comeback due for release in the Autumn – remains unknown, but producer Andy Wilman brought a snippet to show at the Edinburgh Television Festival. “This is not a trailer,” he made clear, “but I put something together to show we have been busy.” From this short tease, The Grand Tour looks like the biggest, brashest, loudest, most extreme version of Top Gear imaginable.
Wilman whinged about Amazon’s ridiculous tech requirements – 4K, high frame rate, HDR – but the effect is startling. Always adventurous in style, The Grand Tour borders on breathtaking. The footage started slow – aerial shots of landscapes around the world, quiet birds in circled flight – but built to a thunderous crescendo. Riding the nose of a Maserati as it swept over a castle’s drawbridge is one of the most exciting pieces of film I’ve seen in the last year. Even if you don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can expect to catch The Grand Tour on every TV at Dixons next year.
Yet money and legal agreements with the BBC aside, this was still unmistakably from the team behind Top Gear. The Maserati seemed to be part of a group test across continental Europe. The dune buggy getting hoisted was likely a race through the deserts of Namibia. And at one point we saw a classic stupid challenge, with Clarkson on a jet ski up against a racing catamaran and…May and Hammond in an old Land Rover modified to be amphibious.
(Now where have we seen that before?)
The new tent – apparently an idle thought of Jeremy Clarkson’s inspired by a scene in True Detective – may be an expensive headache to ship around the world, but it looks the part. Wilman describes it as ‘steamship like’ and it has an air of genuine glamour, folds of black silk framing a view of the South African landscape. But it is also clearly an upgraded version of the old Top Gear studio, which was in its turn an upgraded version of a boy’s treehouse. Fans will feel at home here.
And even amongst all of this money and cinematography, the schlubby trio at the centre haven’t changed at all, mocking May for breaking his arm at the pub and playing stupid pranks.
However, there is a new brashness that exceeds even their previous excesses, and an edge that wasn’t there before. At least in this preview the boys’ swearing is no longer bleeped, topless Namibians dance around Hammond’s car, and it culminates in a Hollywood style car chase with what look like real guns. We’re guessing they’re not – just think of Amazon’s insurance rates – but it’s quite an image.
Many people were worried that off the BBC’s leash and with money to make their wildest dreams come true, they might get spoiled. The hint of schoolboy nastiness soured Top Gear for some, and who could forget the dramatic saga that was Clarkson’s ousting. Hopefully they have the sense to keep this in check.
Or maybe we’re the ones getting carried away, reading too much into what was, again, a very brief glimpse of the show. We’ll have to wait until the Autumn to see if there’s still mileage in these old bangers. But does The Grand Tour look promising?
**** yes it does.