Following the success of Brian Cox’s exploration of space, the Beeb have decided to bring another ‘expert’ to take a closer look at the planet we call home. Step forth… a remarkably Nicky Clarke-esque Richard Hammond??
Strutting around looking like a teenage Fonzie, the ‘Hamster’ takes us on a Jules Verne-style simulated voyage to the centre of the earth, with viewers treated to some fantastic eye-popping computer graphics along the way. Whilst I’m still slightly bemused as to why producers deemed it necessary to make the Top Gear presenter explain these details using a cherry picker, on retrospect the device certainly did wonders for his stature. Yet while Hammond is a warm and likable host, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the rather basic level of the material here..
The show isn’t just about a wide-eyed Hammond riding around on a hydraulic platform looking like a goldfish though, with the producers taking full advantage of the BBC license fee to send the white Gary Coleman around the world in a similar fashion to Science’s wonder boy in Wonders of the Universe. However while Cox actually broke new ground with his scientific documentaries, this offering is painfully elementary in places. Hammond looks amazed to discover that the Earth’s crust is actually divided into plates which move about. Presumably he didn’t bother attending a single geography lesson in his school career. “What’s that Hammond? Diamonds are created underground too!! We thought they grew on tress!”
The show certainly racks up the air miles and while some scenes such as the underground water systems in Florida are genuinely interesting most of the subject matter would look basic in a Year Seven text book. Taking on the persona of a tourist rather than a presenter in some parts (“Can I just grab a picture?”) Hammond also etches his own mark on the commentary for the show. ‘We have only two horse power-I’m used to more’, he says as he and a companion journey up a mountain on a couple of nags.
Whilst Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is an entertaining in places, you can’t escape the feeling that Hammond is out of his depth here and has been chosen for his popularity rather than his knowledge of geophysics. If you’ve done any form of geography or science at school, there’s not much new stuff here, and you can’t get away from the fact that the graphics, whilst brilliant, are a little over the top and unnecessary. It’s interesting to note too that the Beeb declined from visiting Mexico…