Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Gods Must Be Crazy Part I and II (1980 and 1989)

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Modern life is an eternally complicated thing. Mankind has to adjust himself to an increasingly complex series of social engagements all in the name of being a civilised man, but in the end it can just leave us a bit bewildered, and yearning for something simpler...

A tribe of Bushmen live peacefully in the seemingly inhospitable Kalahari desert, wanting for nothing, and sharing everything. This changes when one day a Coke bottle falls from the sky. They quickly find many uses for this strange new object, but with only one of it, it begins to cause trouble. Concluding that the thing is evil, they wonder why the gods sent it! Tribesman Xi decides to go on a journey to find the edge of the earth and throw the 'evil thing' off. Meanwhile, in the 'civilised' world only a short distance away, terrorists are on the run, and take a classroom hostage, and it's soon up to a hapless scientist to help save the day, along with his friends...

The Gods Must Be Crazy is a film that needs no introduction (but allow me to do it anyway). Directed by South African Jamie Uys, it presents the story of a simple but wise Bushman, and how his quest affects all those around him, while they have their own stories.

The film begins almost like a documentary, with an academic British narrator telling us all about the nature, wildlife, and day to day activities of the San people of the inner Kalahari. He has a dry sense of humour, accentuated by his academic delivery, which often gets laughs. He never talks down to the Bushmen, but instead speaks highly of them and their ways.

The film's satirical edge comes into play when we shift to the confusing modern world, where man has to adjust himself to a new environment every half hour, or risk losing his job or mind. Street lights, alarms, cars, watches, countless little things that can have important consequences.

The story juggles these different threads well, from Xi's adventure, to the romantic hijinks, and the roving terrorists. It might seem a bit much at first, but it all ties together very well, and everything has its place. As the characters become more centre-stage, and events are fairly self-explanatory, the narration fades out. While he is missed, I am glad it's not shoved down our throats when no longer necessary.

The comedy here is quirky, funny, and varied. There's dry wit, wordplay, slapstick (even the classic banana peel trick is used, and well I might add!), and jokes about the human condition. There's also plenty of heart, which complements the humour perfectly.

The Gods Must Be Crazy has an honest and frank portrayal of Africa, that manages to showcase all that's wonderful about the continent, while also not sugarcoating the unsavoury parts (Nor does it get too dark either). I also admire that the movie shows a problem (a teacher shortage in Botswana), and provides a direct answer of what one could do about it.

The film comes to us from South Africa, and must have been an important release! With that country in the midst of Apartheid, seeing a local director make such a positive film towards the natives is a treat, and one can hope art like this would help change things for the better. It also avoids any of that country's present strife by setting itself in Botswana. This is good, as the plot has got enough going on in it without complicated South African politics and baggage.

The Gods Must Be Crazy is almost universally beloved, at home and abroad. Any accusations that the film patronises I find laughable. Not only does it not, the film is inherently critical of modern man and our culture, while respectful and in awe of the Bushmen's culture. It has nothing but admiration for them, and the film's message is quite clearly how much better life would be if the whole world were like them. Only 5 minutes of the film will tell you that.

The characters are a great bunch. Xi manages to have a distinct and clear personality, despite never saying a word we understand. He's sweet, lovable, and has a warm innocence that endears almost everyone he meets. Dr. Andrew Steyn meanwhile is a clumsy guy, whose brain completely stops working around women. But clever in his own way, and he sure steps up to the game when necessary! Journalist turned teacher Kate is nice enough. And Andrew's mate M'pudi is a funny little guy, who has a backstory that fits well with the Bushhmen.

The villains are an effectively loathsome bunch. Greasy and brutish, but never so violent that it clashes with the tone. Then there's the safari action man Jack Hind. He's a bit of a braggart, but he's also a good guy in some ways, which makes him more well-rounded. He totally tries taking credit for the heroes' actions at the end though, so clearly he's still in need of a few lessons in humility!

And last, Andrew's kooky car is like its own character. Temperamental as well as detachable, it provides plenty of humor.

The direction by Jamie Uys has a really distinct visual style. He doesn't just point and shoot, but does several editing tricks, including sped up footage, adding to the humuor or spectacle. The vistas of the film are really good too, capturing the rugged and diverse beauty of the land well. We see the plains of the Kalahari, lush forests, traditional villages, etc. You really couldn't ask for a better showcase of the continent's vast natural beauty than this film here.

The acting here is really good. N!xau is a perfect lead, delivering a very natural performance. Where the film excels is how much is in unsubtitled San language, yet we understand every word. We see what they're saying through their actions and expressions. The rest of the cast do well too, from Marius Weyers and Sandra Prinsloo as the leads, Michael Thys, as well as the dub actors, and Paddy O'Byrne as the narrator.

The music is another high point, with traditional tribal beats, soothing melodies, and fun comedy and action tracks.

The Gods Must Be Crazy is an utterly charming film, and one of my all-time favourites. It's a movie you can watch again and again, and never get tired of. I also wish real life, in Africa and out, was more like what we see here...

The Gods Must Be Crazy Part II

After its huge success, The Gods Must Be Crazy seemed like a shoe-in for a sequel, but it took a surprisingly long 9 years for one to finally come! One might worry about if a sequel is good or necessary, and whether or not such a large gap has an affect. Luckily The Gods Must Be Crazy 2 is just as good as the first, if not better!

American lawyer Ann Taylor arrives in Africa to give a speech, but on the way there, a quick desert flight leaves her stranded with a local scientist. Meanwhile, the children of bushman Xixo go wandering and discover a water truck helmed by smugglers. While trying to collect some for the village, it drives off with them in tow. Xixo embarks on a desperate journey to rescue his children, while two duelling soldiers from a nearby country fight each-other, and Ann tries getting back to civilisation in time for her speech...

The Gods Must Be Crazy 2 is a highly enjoyable film, and does everything a good sequel should do. It gives us more of the same, while also shaking things up enough and keeping a high level of quality.

The plot is simple in a way. Xixo's sole motivation is to find his kids, while Ann and Stephen just want to get home. There's enough urgency to keep things exciting, as well as interesting.

The film is set almost entirely in Xixo's home turf this time. We get to really see the inhospitable nature of the Kalahari in action, and how these tricks of the Bushmen can aid those seemingly doomed. Another touch I really like is how it shows how trekkers can rely on familiar landmarks. I think it's a good way of teaching people how to familiarise themselves with a landscape, and avoid getting lost.

The dialogue is as sharp and satirical as before, not to mention funny. The comedy overall is great, especially on the physical side. There's plenty of slapstick, hilarious recurring jokes, and great moments of culture clash. Xixo's reaction to guns is hilarious every time I watch.

Perhaps due to a reduced budget, the film has a smaller feel to it than the first, but that's ok. As long as the events and locations carry weight, it doesn't have to give us an epic feel. And we're still in the African outback, so it's hardly like we're stuck on a cheap soundstage.

This is by and large a character piece, and we see how all these people, familiar with the landscape or not, react to it. Ann Taylor is a feisty sheila, and never obnoxious about it. What I especially like about her is how hardy she is in the wild! Obviously she's a typical city girl, and needs to adapt, but she does it pretty admirably, and isn't afraid of roughing it (i.e. drinking out of a dusty old can to get much-needed water). She says a catchphrase a fair bit early on, but it never overstays its welcome.

Her reluctant companion is zoologist Dr. Stephen Marshall. The film pulls a bit of a bait and switch, as we expect her to end up with a dashing safari man, only for him to leave, and she ends up with the more down-to-earth Stephen, as he has to make an emergency trip, resulting in their shared predicament. A constant presence is his ultralite plane, which is its own character in a way. Then there's a savage but lovable badger that joins in on the action.

Stephen and Ann share great chemistry together, both in sparring, and as gradual romantic interests. The time they spend apart does them good for different reasons, but I feel it lasts too long. It's a joy seeing them interact, and a bummer for them to be apart for so long. Thankfully things never gets boring, but I did miss their interactions during the midsection.

Xixo has much more personal motivations this time round, and it's really effective. And once again, it's a motivation that goes beyond language. We don't need to understand what he's saying to know how he feels. He doesn't appear as much in the first act, but shows up more in the later stages, in indispensable ways. He also has some funny and thoughtful native observations, like how these poachers steal the useless tusks and leave the rest of the valuable meat behind, or these light people are illiterate because they can't read tracks.

His kids are cute, and surprisingly smart! They're not presented as stupid or anything. Instead their reasons for going off in the first place are perfectly reasonable, and they prove themselves to be inquisitive, clever, and resourceful! They don't just spend the whole movie trapped in the water tank either, but are able to free themselves and have their own adventures, like their adorable outsmarting of a hyena.

Then there are two soldiers from the neighbouring Angolan civil war. One local, one Cuban, who are constantly trying to capture the other, which mixed success, especially when Ann bumps into the duo and has enough of their shit. Their presence provides a window into outside conflicts and an anti-war sentiment, without getting too heavy about it, or cramming a message down our throats.

The bad guys are fairly standard. We've got the villainous head poacher, and his clumsy assistant, who's goodhearted in a way, and has a surprising helpful quality during the climax!

While the cast may be big on first glance, there are few supporting characters here. Everyone plays a purpose, especially in the climax, where the two soldiers' bumbling ends up proving vital for success.

As with the first movie, the narration is heavier during the first act, then gradually phases out, only chiming in when necessary. I appreciate that it serves its purpose when it needs to, giving a voice to the tribesmen, while also leaving the obvious things to us to interpret.

Onto the acting, N!xau is once again the heart and soul of the feature, delivering a warm and down-to-earth performance. Lena Farugia and Hans Strydom make for good English leads, while the rest of the cast are fun. The two child actors do a great job, acting naturally, and getting across plenty of emotion, as well as looking adorable!

The effects are good. The clouds during the flight sequence are a stunning use of what I assume are matte paintings? Either that or they're a very real natural wonder. Also impressive is the fire at the end. Obviously wouldn't have actually set a real brush fire, not only because of the massive risks involved, plus the destruction, but also because you'd only get one shot to do it right. I applaud them for getting it all to look convincing.

Both the locales and wildlife of Africa provide in both big and little ways, giving a great impression of the continent. The Gods Must Be Crazy simultaneously shows why you wouldn't wanna get stuck in the Kalahari, while also making it seem like a great place to get lost in!

And lastly, the music here is absolutely wonderful. These tracks are sweet, emotional, and fun, and are so quintessential to the series that I always forget they weren't in the first movie! They just fit the world and events so seamlessly, especially the lovely main theme!

Funny, sweet, thrilling, and more, The Gods Must Be Crazy 2 is everything you could want in a movie. Like the first, I could pop it on any time, and it's a great film to make you feel positive... 


The Gods Must Be Crazy are still classics to this day, and haven't aged a bit. They show a mix of a bygone era, and the way we wish life could be. To me, both movies are equals. Trying to figure out which is better is an impossible task. Each do some things better, but together they're a perfect package, and easily some of the best movies to have come out of Africa...

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