Gymkhana Three, Part 2: Missing Something

Producing a follow-up to what is arguably one of the greatest car videos on YouTube is no small feat. Ken Block’s short video simply titled “Gymkhana Practice” (released in 2008) helped create a whole new category of video with its high-speed antics and amazing sound. Within weeks our email box here at Driving Sports was bursting with “Did you see this?" and "Amazing!” subject lines. Evenmore, we couldn’t through a stone without hitting someone that wanted to do a Gymkhana video of their own. "Like Ken's but with a Volvo 240!"

With “Gymkhana TWO” the founder of DC Shoes let out his inner Bruckheimer with a special effects and stunt driving extravaganza. This certainly raised the bar for the genre, but if the activity of our email inbox was any indication, it didn’t resonate as loudly as the first. Only a couple “check this out” emails hit our inbox. Not even a peep from the Volvo crowd.

Where the first video felt like it was for fun, the second ladled its commercial intentions and Hollywood aspirations so heavy that Ken no longer appeared to be “one of us.” Instead, it was like watching a Schwarzenegger flick: good entertainment, but very few will think they could survive The Predator. The divide is clear between reality and fantasy.

“Gymkhana Practice” resonated because it was a believable fantasy and it gave a very real sense of being there. Add explosions, product placement and the slow-motion cameras of “Gymkhana TWO” and it starts to resemble a distant fantasy.

The Segway is back.

The Segway is back.

Now with the multi-part “Gymkhana THREE” series, Block is back. As I previously wrote, Part 1 was jarring in its departure from form. If reality is the touchstone of success for this series, the first part of “Gymkhana THREE” was an epic stumble. I personally find Schwarzenegger’s character of Duke more relatable than guys rapping about “shifting into turbo” and mugging into the camera.

For “Gymkhana THREE, Part 2; Ultimate Playground; l’Autodrome, France” Ken promised a return to the roots of the series: power, speed and a soundtrack cut from nothing more than the wail of the Fiesta’s 650hp motor. These could all be good things. But did it rekindle the same raw “realness” of the original? I’ve watched it more than a few times, and have even gone back and re-watched the 2008 original. I can say this: it sparks the spirit, but only goes half way.

Fans of the British Motoring show Top Gear know there is only one way to watch that series: in the original BBC broadcast versions. Why? Because of licensing restrictions the BBC has to re-cut each episode to a new soundtrack before it’s exported to other countries. This means, instead of Paul Haslinger’s “Miserere,” American audiences get to hear Generic Spooky Soundtrack #4545 as Clarkson is crossing perilous cliff roads in Bolivia. The sound makes all the difference.

Ultimately, that’s one of the most prominent problems with “Gymkhana THREE: Part 2.” In translating the formula to a new venue (an inspired choice at that) and a new car, the epic sound of the first video has been lost in translation. That’s not to say the Fiesta is incapable of making a similarly inspiring and intimidating noise as his now retired Subaru. Here, it just just doesn't pack the gravitas of "Gymkhana Practice." Like Bolivia, in the end that makes all the difference.

It’s great to see Ken Block sliding it like a hoon up, down and sideways (literally) while clearly having fun in the process. I just wished this episode had a soundtrack to match (and less rolling shutter artifacts from the POV cameras.)