Joke of the Bushveld

An Active3D Movie Review:

Jock of the Bushveld 3-D (a.k.a. Jock, in the US)

Rating (out of 5 stars): zero

South African entertainment journalists have been hearing all about this movie for at least two years; South Africa’s first animated 3-D feature film. Yet, as we exited the preview theatre, having witnessed this much-touted product, we looked like a bunch of relatives forlornly shuffling out of a funeral. Why? Because, sad to say, the film fails in every conceivable department.

Firstly, the story bears only the slightest, vaguest, passing, fleeting resemblance to Percy Fitzpatrick’s beautiful book about the bond between a man and his dog. All the real, gritty heart of the book has been ripped out, and the scriptwriters have, instead, installed a trivial narrative around Jock and his jolly band of animal friends. So, immediately, the filmmakers thrust themselves into the same arena dominated by experienced Hollywood studios with their teams of sharp writers and hordes of cutting-edge animators. It was a battle they were destined to lose even if they had made a sturdy effort – which they haven’t. When a sexy French poodle was introduced to the story, you could hear the reviewers’ jaws clatter to the ground, as one. If you’re going to take such a beautiful book, and alter – and trivialise it – to such a degree, then at least have the decency to change your title, and, if you really have to credit the source, say something such as “loosely based upon..” or “loosely based upon characters in…”

Then we have the voice performances, which were probably recorded single voice by single voice, around the world – and certainly sound that way. There is no interaction or performance in the voices, and each character appears to be musing out loud to him or herself. The international voice cast is quite impressive for a homegrown product: Donald Sutherland, Helen Hunt, Mandy Patinkin, and Ted Danson; all headed up by Canadian singer, Bryan Adams, who takes the titular role. Amongst the South African voices used are Theo Landey, Sylvaine Strike, Anthony Bishop – and even the distinctive tones of Desmond Tutu! All amounting to nothing.

There is a woodenness about the animation in this film, the textures of the animals’ coats don’t make the grade, and the human characters float about the landscape as if they’ve been pumped with helium, and are about to take off. In other words, the animation is leagues behind what we’re accustomed to seeing on our screens.

Finally – and most crucially for this blog – even the technical wheels have fallen off this production. There are a number of shots in which the stereo image is reversed (i.e. the left-eye image gets fed to your right eye, and vice versa). This can cause visual distress by reversing depth cues, and is absolutely inexcusable! Didn’t the production team watch the final product with their 3-D glasses on – or did they just have faith that the 3-D would work out in the end?

I hadn’t been expecting Pixar, but this was nonetheless a huge disappointment. It’s all very well having a PR team to create buzz and pre-publicity around your film, but when the lights dim and the projector turns on, your finished product needs to speak eloquently for itself! Unfortunately, however, this is indicative of a typically South African syndrome: a bunch of guys have a little knowledge, and they immediately assume that they can ‘pee with the big boys’, so to speak. Why didn’t the producers of this film start off by making some short cartoons which could’ve been exhibited locally, and also been put up for critical scrutiny by film reviewers, other animators, and other players in the movie business? The team clearly needed to do some walking, before attempting to run.

If poor Percy Fitzpatrick is aware – in some ghoulish, afterlife fashion – of what’s been done to his book, he’ll be spinning rapidly, in all three dimensions, in his grave…

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