A simple idea, brilliantly executed. 42 Up works like a living family album, showing the viewer both the differences and similarities amoung everyone. After 35 years working on this documentary (and its previous versions), Michael Apted has made a masterpiece.What strikes me more than anything about 42 Up is that the group of kids who were interviewed back in the sixties for the original series were never affected by the fact they were featured in a documentary. As we see their lives unfold, only passing mention is made of the fact that it has all been recorded and seen by the public. Part of it is due to the fact that the time between the interviews is a full seven years, but I think there is more to it than that.
In today's media saturated world, a project like this would certainly garner the subjects fifteen minutes of fame - entertainment shows would do a "where are they now" introspective, magazines would do front page stories claiming to tell "the real story", other TV series would give us a behind the scenes glimpse of how it all fits together. The adults of 42 Up, if a young Apted manque were to try this today, would be put through the wringer of fame that would undoubtedly change the course of their lives. Whether it would be for the better or the worse is debatable: the point is that they wouldn't be allowed to simply LIVE THEIR OWN LIVES. Consider a show like "The Real World", where a group of complete strangers are placed in a setting that NONE of them could afford, cameras are on them 24 hours a day. What the hell is real about that? Do you really think that in the back of their minds, the people of "The Real World" ever forget they're on TV? What makes 42 Up such a triumph is that Apted works a little bit like a nature photographer: he keeps a respectful distance to try to show his subjects as they really ARE, not what we the public think they are.Basically, if you're a fan of documentary, and of people watching, see this. It's a project that can never be repeated or topped.