The Vice Guide to Travel

The Vice Guide to Travel (2006)
Vice Films
Cast: Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi, Derrick Beckles, Trace Crutchfield, David Choe
Extras: Additional Footage

Planning a vacation some time soon? Perhaps a trip to Hawaii, or an African safari, or a romantic holiday in Paris? Well, you're not going to find it here. For the gonzo journalists of Vice Magazine, a Montreal-based publication, the dark side of humanity is the ultimate destination, and their new travelogue will leave you thankful to be in the comforts of your own home. Specializing in fashion, rock music, and all that is bizarre and distasteful, Vice Magazine has branched out into merchandising, television, and now DVDs. "The Vice Guide to Travel" could be called an anti-travelogue, an introduction to some of the most dangerous, depraved places on Earth and the people who live there. Documented with tremendous fearlessness by the Vice correspondents, the seven short segments on this disc make for truly compelling entertainment and eye-opening exposés.

Vice co-founder Shane Smith takes on our first three excursions. He first introduces us to the "PLO Boy Scouts in Beirut." No, these are not the good little boys who earn merit badges by helping little old ladies across the street. The children involved in this organization are, in fact, being trained as future suicide bombers whose ultimate goal is to destroy the Israelis. Through the course of this segment, the tykes are shown watching cartoons that teach them the heavenly rewards of martyrdom and singing songs of genocide. Disturbing, isn't it?

Smith next shows us how frighteningly easy it is to buy a nuclear warhead on the Bulgarian black market in "Bulgarian Dirty Bombs." A candid interview with the man who sells these and just about anything else you could think of, all in the name of capitalism, openly discusses his hobnobbing with none other than Osama bin Laden. Why would he willingly talk about this on camera, you ask? Can you say moolah? The implications that the Vice squad uncover in this segment are unequivocally the most chilling revelations that I have heard in a long time.

We are then taken on a quest to find "The Radioactive Beasts of Chernobyl." Two decades after a nuclear disaster, Smith and the Vice squad travel to the mostly deserted city to take footage of the reportedly mutated animals. What they find is a haunting ghost of a city that once thrived but is now the most radioactive location on the planet. The radioactivity in a wooded area alone is so high that the crew cannot even go near it to film the animals or else they will die.

Co-founder Suroosh Alvi takes up the next excursion to "The Gun Markets of Pakistan." Here, he meets street vendors who create and sell thousands of illegal arms a day that are then bought and tested on rooftops. That Alvi and his crew were even allowed into the market and were able to film it is remarkable in itself, but what they film is beyond description.

"The Last Aryans of Paraguay" are next on the agenda, as writer Derrick Beckles sets out to find Nueva Germania, a proposed Wagnerian utopia where Aryans would be able to run free without the intrusion of hated Jews, developed by Elisabeth Nietzsche and Bernhard Förster that later served as a retreat for Dr. Josef Mengele and other Nazi war criminals after World War II. The only remnants of that colony are a pair of reclusive brothers who, according to the locals, may be cannibals.

Next, Vice correspondent Trace Crutchfield travels to "The Slums of Rio," where drug lords and the police shoot it out daily. What is most fascinating about this sequence is Crutchfield's attendance of a late night block party hosted by the drug lords. Rumors fly of the horrible death suffered by a journalist who was caught filming one of these bashes, but Crutchfield goes in anyway with cameras all around. Ah, living on the edge.

Finally, correspondent David Choe takes us to a Pygmy village where reportedly "The Last Dinosaur of the Congo" still lurks. Depending solely on assistance from the Pygmy locals to help him find the elusive creature, Choe finds himself in a surprising and even more unexpected encounter than he anticipated.

With all of this clocking in at under an hour, the segments are concise but mind-boggling in their frankness and disquiet. The hosts are refreshingly irreverent throughout, but that cannot make the material any less troubling or horrifying. "The Vice Guide to Travel" presents aspects of our world that most of us are not even remotely aware of, nor do we necessarily want to be. At the same time, they simply should not be ignored, and we owe a great deal of gratitude to the Vice squad for their daring in bringing this oh-so unflattering side of the world to our attention.

The image quality on Vice Films' DVD is impeccable. Although it was filmed on video under frequently extreme circumstances, the picture quality is flawless and looks absolutely fantastic. The anamorphic widescreen transfer, preserved in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is crisp and clear with minimal artifacting. Colors are surprisingly vibrant in many scenes. Considering the modest quality of the source, this really is an excellent transfer, and I couldn't imagine it looking better.

Sound is also impressive in a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. Dialogue is clear and warm, with background sounds and music coming through with fine detail. Most of the sound is distributed through the front channels, but all levels are clear and distinguishable. The many music cues throughout are represented well. Subtitles are offered in French, Spanish, German, and Italian. Overall, a job well done.

Special features come in the form of seven brief segments of additional footage. Some of these are apparently deleted moments from the main chapters. Others are entirely new, such as one in which Vice co-founder Gavin McInnis and actor David Cross pay a visit to China. These short sequences offer another small taste of what is offered on the main feature.

The DVD also comes with a 65-page book with lots of photos and information. If that doesn't cap off this genuinely intriguing release, then I don't know what does.

"The Vice Guide to Travel" is by no means conventional entertainment. This is a deeply disturbing look at parts of the world we never hear about on the nightly news. Once you have seen this, you will not soon forget it. The Vice correspondents have a lot of guts to do what they do, but let's all be glad they do. Forget the reality programs on TV. THIS is reality in all of its ugly manifestations. If this is a taste of what we have to look forward to from Vice Films, then we are surely the better for it.