Jock of the Bushveld 3Dby Kavish Chetty / 20.06.2011
Let’s have a moment’s silence: a funereal minute to consecrate the passing of that younger, more innocent era when it was sufficient to ask the question “what the fuck is this world coming to?” Now those syllables are left like ashes in our mouths. We have to freight in the past tense to acknowledge our debts and failures, and ask instead with a resignatory sigh, “what the fuck has this world come to?”
Okay, perhaps more than a subtle blush of melodrama to open a film critique on Jock of the Bushveld. But I maintain – that this shit-crusted cliché of a movie could be produced at all is the bat-signal for an age of mediocrity. What intrigues most is the recognisable and revered cast who whored out their voices in service of this film: I’m talking Ted Danson, Helen Hunt, Bryan Adams. Okay, Bryan Adams doesn’t qualify for the “revered” part of the above intrigue. Bryan Adams?! I can’t remember the last time Bryan Adams produced music – let alone anything worth listening to – and now he’s crawling out the rotted woodwork to voice “Jock” in an animated children’s adaptation of the book? I have a theory on hand, and pardon me it’s quite wild. I suspect the director (Duncan MacNiellie, or the “Dunkster” as he shall hereafter be named) was on holiday in America. He was hanging out on a “sidewalk” in true yankee fashion, probably eating a footlong hot-dog with “ketchup” and “relish”. Suddenly, an opulent gran turismo comes sharking down the main street. Ted Danson is behind the wheel, off his tits on cocaine and he’s got Helen Hunt and Bryan Adams in the backseat. They’re about to crash splendidly into a nearby Burger King. The Dunkster drops his hot-dog and vaults himself heroically through the passenger window. He smacks Danson off the steering wheel and commandeers them to a zigzagging halt. Sighing exhalations all around, and in the ensuing gentle lurch of sobriety, Danson and co. realise they owe their lives to old Dunky. In the thickest throes of gratitude they pledge a reciprocal favour – anything, anything, you name it; we owe you our lives!
If it seems like I’m being particularly harsh on this film, there’s reason enough for it in a single quote from Andy Rice who runs Jock Marketing. He has been quoted saying, “As with sponsorship, character licensing borrows the equity of a loved character and transfers this to the brand, giving it an immediate emotional competitive advantage.” Let’s just quickly run that little sliver of marketing argot through the bullshit-thresher. It comes out like this: ‘exhuming the corpses of childhood or national icons works on the emotions of our audience, softening the indigestible pieces of the product by playing on their nostalgia.’ A little bit extra, the part related to the brand, comes out: ‘oh, and of course we can license the shit out of the main characters, creating everything from duvet covers to butt-plugs.’ See, this is why Jock of the Bushveld should get you riled up. They appear to have had no other motive when making this film other than rushing out some cash cow – prematurely ripped from its mother’s bovine womb.
The film itself is ghastly in so many ways. The first jarring element is the animation. It starts off innocently enough – it’s just kind of average when looked at in still motion, but you wouldn’t admonish it because it has some of the “look how hard he’s trying” charisma of the slowest kid in playschool – the one who draws green bee-hives and writes his 5s backwards. But, after a few minutes, this “not very good” becomes positively hideous. It reminds me, actually, of playing videogames in the late 1990s. As graphics lacked realism, there was always this disconcerting sense of incompleteness to the games you played; you could tell that beyond the confines of the walls there was an infinite nothing, because the world hadn’t been crafted with potent enough illusions to convince you it was more than an empty simulacra. Jock’s graphics are kind of like this in places. But it’s really the motion that will get you because, the characters move like polygonal apparitions of an outdated age. In some flashback sequences, they stutter as though you’re running modern games on a 32 MB graphics card. There are two responses: there’s “ag, shame man, they’re only South Africans” also known as the cloaked-condescension gambit; and there’s “if you want to play the game, motherfuckers, there are rules” also known as the enemy-of-the-state reply.
But now I feel the true magnetic force of this film’s core eccentricity: its world. “This is Africa Mr. Fitzpatrick,” says one of the characters, “and nothing normal happens here.” This would just be another entry in the by now overcooked cliché of Africa as a dark continent (see Leonardo DiCaprio shouting “TIA – this is Africa!” in Blood Diamond). But the Africa wrought in this particular film truly isn’t normal – it’s bizarre. Apparently they saw fit to include accents from everywhere except South Africa – there is a British thug, a haughty French poodle, a venal Australian, and of course Jock himself is American. I don’t know why exactly, but Desmond Tutu saw fit to throw in a few cameo lines as a wise native, or “noble savage” as we used to call them in the 17th century. This world – this “Africa” – is a total mess. The focal tavern in the film has swinging saloon doors, a cast of customers who are dressed in the garb of the Western frontier mythos, and wild-west style poster plastered up on its walls. These curiosities can only be apprehended under a single rubric: naked profiteering. To “globalise” this film, as it were, to make it accessible to markets outside of South Africa (presumably, getting international distribution is contingent on domestic success), they’ve had to gracelessly insert anachronistic and misplaced markers like the above accents and aesthetic quirks. What they’ve done in the process is fuck the viewing experience for the local audience en route and furthermore, in this smorgasbord of incompatible signifiers create a world that eerily announces it is nothing more than a capitalist’s orgasmless wet dream.
I’ve begun digging the ditch, so we may as well commit the burial here too and save on costs. The music in this film is abysmal. It sparkles like cheap glitter. You have to witness first-hand the sing-along in which the monkey lays down in awful seductiveness upon the piano forte while the baboon plays the harmonica. It’s tacky, rushed, banal – it’s everything the Lion King was not, and yet it isn’t selfconscious enough to recognise this.
I want to close by addressing what will be the natural counter-response – this film was made for children, so get over it. Thing is, lots of films are made for children and aren’t automatically terrible for those on the more sinful side of sixteen. Making a children’s film, novel, videogame, whatever, is not a license to shit. The animation in this film is so bad that Fitzpatrick, the pathetic loser of a protagonist who pretty much accomplishes nothing throughout the film, smiles like a pedophile. Even the sort of irresponsible parent who routinely drops off their kid at the cinema to nip out for some quick extra-marital reverse cowgirl won’t want their kid to suffer through that kind of trauma. This film is so unsubtle about its intentions (“get the money, dollar dollar bill y’all”) as to almost be comic, and I guiltlessly admit of no sympathy for its creators.
Oh, and this is South Africa’s inaugural 3D movie. Hurray, we’ve capitulated.