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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jock of the Bushveld

Look, I enjoyed writing this because, hey, rants are fun but I don't like coming down this hard on a film that is essentially a little indie film by a group of South African filmmakers who had the unenviable task of trying to compete with the big Hollywood animation studios. Still, I have to be honest and, frankly, if they disn't have the manpower needed to pull off this kind of CGI film in the first place, they should either simply not have made it or gone a more traditional hand-drawn animation route. In the end, though, weak storytelling is weak storytelling. It's not the worst film of the year in that there is nothing truly offensive about it but I literally can't think of a single thing about the film that was even remotely satisfying. 

With that wordy intro out of the way, on with the review. Just please note that this is my original, unedited version. Head on over to Channel24 for the edited - and somewhat toned down - review. 

What it's about

A retelling of the classic South African novel of the same name about the friendship between a young man, Percy Fitzpatrick, and his best friend, a dog named Jock, as the two set off on an adventure to find gold, encountering many adversaries on the way. This time, though, the story is told through the point of view of an anthropomorphic Jock.

What we thought

I can't say for certain if I ever read Jock of the Bushveld but, if I did, it wouldn't have been much later than primary school. Either way, though it is, of course, known to be one of South Africa's greatest contributions to world literature, I remembered next to nothing about the novel as I entered the cinema to watch what is only the second cinematic adaptation of the story to date. Now, I may not remember the book and I may not remember the 1992 live-action film that first took a crack at bringing Jock to the big screen but I know this: if the novel is anywhere near the classic that it is so often touted to be, it must surely have next to nothing in common with this train wreck of a film.

A home-grown film with some American financing and some American/ Canadian voice talent (Helen Hunt! Ted Danson! Mandy “My-name-is-Inigo-Montoya-you-killed-my-father-prepare-to-die” Patinkin! Donald Sutherland! Bryan Adams!?), Jock offers absolutely nothing in the way of competition to even the worst CG-animations from established powerhouses Dreamworks or Sony, let alone the MacDaddy of them all, Pixar. This is a film that makes Cars 2 look like Toy Story 2. Hell, it's a film that makes Shark's Tale look like Toy Story 2.

It would be nice to throw the dog a bone, so to speak, what with it being an independent film put together by a South African team, presumably without the resources of animation's Big Boys but, honestly, it would be hard to know where to even begin. Aside for Jock himself being a fairly cute CGI dog, the film itself falters and fails on every level.

On a purely technical level, the animation is shockingly bad – the jerky, stilted movements of the characters and their downright creepy facial expressions wouldn't stand up to a 1990s PC adventure game, never mind your average, full-blown 21st century animated film. Worse, those old computer games (I'm looking at you Grim Fandango!) were probably better lit and boasted better art design than Jock's drab visuals and rubbish character designs.

And, yet, the 3D is actually pretty good. Go figure.

Putting aside the atrocious technical work on the film (though good luck with that), the pathetic, incompetent storytelling is most unforgivable. The characterization is non-existent, while the ramshackle story is unengagingly disjointed and the massive plot holes only go unnoticed because it is so very difficult to care about anything that goes on on screen. The action scenes fail to thrill, the jokes fail to raise so much as a titter and any attempts at emotional poignancy spectacularly fail to hit home.

It also boasts some of the worst music to be featured in a film this year – never more so than in the film's dramatic scenes where the sickly, insipidly saccharine music takes you from a state of shocked disbelief to nervous laughter, before finally leaving you desperately in need of a barf bag. On the other hand, at least the music elicits some response. Would that I could say the same about anything else in the film. 

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