Slow TV: Aussies mesmerized by 17-hour movie of a train ride

The trailer for The Ghan: Australia’s Greatest Train Journey lasts 30 seconds. The movie itself, however, runs for a butt-numbing 17 hours. Yes, seventeen.

Broadcast throughout Sunday, January 14  on Australia’s SBS Television network, the ambitious production was its first foray into so-called “slow TV,” a genre that came to prominence in Norway around 10 years ago and so far has featured train rides, coastal cruises, bird feeder activities, and a knitting marathon that went on for 12 hours.

Well, we say ambitious, though in reality The Ghan pretty much involved sticking a camera on the front of the train and hitting “record.” Those tuning in on Sunday were treated to endless footage of a train track, desolate outback, and the occasional text-based explanation about various points of interest.

An abridged three-hour version of the famous train ride, which runs between Adelaide in the south and Darwin in the north, was broadcast last week, but the overwhelmingly positive response persuaded SBS to take things a step further and broadcast a 17-hour special. Whether the broadcaster decides to go the whole way and show the entire 54-hour journey across 1,851 miles (2,979 km) remains to be seen.

SBS said of its three-hour version: “[It] got the nation talking, trending nationally on social media, and recorded an average of 583,000 viewers … making this the highest performing SBS program in the past 12 months.” Whether this reflects the popularity of slow TV or instead the dearth of decent material on Aussie TV isn’t clear, but social media posts suggest the 17-hour televisual trundle across Australia, like the three-hour version, was also a hit with viewers.

Although for some it was clearly more somniferous than splendiferous:

In its show notes, SBS describes The Ghan: Australia’s Greatest Train Journey as “an immersive journey on Australia’s most iconic railway that reveals — in real time — the stunning topographical vistas and dramatic palette changes from Adelaide to Darwin, while unpacking our indigenous, multicultural, and social history in the most surprising way.”

It adds: “The train line and subsequent development of central Australia and the growth of Darwin, Alice Springs, and Port Augusta can be attributed to local indigenous communities’ knowledge of surviving the harsh desert, as well as early immigrants, including Europeans, Chinese, and the Afghan cameleers ‘The Ghan’ is named after.”

The Ghan: Australia’s Greatest Train Journey remains viewable on SBS On Demand in case you have a spare 17 hours, though you’ll have to be in the country to access it.

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