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It has only taken the best part of a quarter century to arrive, but The Gods Must Be Crazy has finally appeared on the best home video format since Beta was nearly set to rule the roost. For those of you who grew up in the 1980s, no doubt this film holds a special place in your heart, unless of course your heart is made of harder stuff than a coke bottle. But then for everyone else who has never seen it before, you are in for a wonderful experience unlike any other in cinematic history. If you can imagine this movie as somewhat of a cross between Born Free and Spinal Tap, then you might be thinking that I've either gone peculiar or accidentally swallowed some very suspect mushrooms from the Kalahari desert.

Gods Must Be Crazy 1 & 2, The
The Gods Must Be Crazy was one of those magical film experiences that nobody ever saw coming in the cinemas way back in 1980 and has became a cult phenomenon beyond its years that is still adored in selective circles (like Monty Python, for want of a better analogy). The first reel starts off unpretentiously by presenting the audience with a National Geographic type special, narrated by a well-spoken but unseen observer (Paddy O'Byrne), not unlike the famous Sir David Attenborough. He informs us, with a certain genuineness, about a remote tribe of African Bushmen, which I'm sure this made some people think they stepped into the wrong theatre by accident. This is followed by an equally fascinating anthropological look at modern man in civilised society, again which seems like a perfectly valid dissemination of another tribe that has taken great pains to simplify the world they live in by making it unnecessarily complex. It then becomes one big fish-out-of-water story whilst Xixo the Bushman comes up with his own unique theories about the strange things that these new people get up to, removing any doubt that this indeed was the film that movie-goers paid good money to see purely from word-of-mouth.

The long-awaited sequel, The Gods Must Be Crazy II, took over four years of creative development and was eventually released in 1989. There is a new predicament faced by Xixo and his two lost children, however their amount of screen time is even less than in the first film so they pretty much take a back seat to the unpredictable antics enacted by the Heavy People as Xixo describes them. The new storyline concentrates much more on the slapstick routines on the assumption that this is what the audience really wants, but thankfully there is enough of the Bushman's saga interspersed throughout to ground the film properly. Xixo isn't nearly as involved in the goings-on of the Heavy People until the final act where he eventually saves them all again. And as crazy as this is going to sound too, the visual effects sequences involving the ultra-light aircraft in this sequel are so surreal that it's hard not to see the possibly unintentional pop-culture tributes that they invoke. One is where the plane flies around a fake mountain set giving the impression that Monkey can be seen floating right next to the plane's occupants on his own personal floating cloud; the other is when the plane is high in the air and you can just imagine a Monty Python foot is about to come down and stomp on them. This entertaining sequel is not nearly as well-rounded as the original, but is still just as enjoyable to watch.

Then as far as the western world was concerned this was the end of Xixo's story, but the Hong Kong film industry soon picked up this now popular franchise and created three more filmic outings of our favourite Little Man. Only the first of these Hong Kong generated Gods outings (TGMBC3) were actually any good, entitled Crazy Safari aka Vampires Must Be Crazy, which is just as bizarre as it sounds. Anyone familiar with the successful Mr Vampire Hong Kong movies will instantly recognise the potential of melding kung-fu hopping vampires with the innocent antics of Xixo the Bushman. In a normal world, this movie didn't fair too well at the box-office, but for people like me who adore both of these genres it was a dream come true to witness this rather irregular fusion taking place. Amazingly, the Hong Kong stunt choreographers had taught N!xau how to fight Bruce Lee style and there are some wonderful outtakes of him to savour just like those found on any Jackie Chan type of film - rent the VHS of this flick if you dare.

And just in case you thought things couldn't get any weirder, the last two sequels went from ridiculously implausible to downright cringe-ridden filth. Avoid anything with the titles Crazy In Hong Kong (TGMBC4) or The Gods Must Be Funny In China (TGMBC5) at all costs. I guess the reason that Hong Kong made these the way that they did is because their humour is much more bizarre than ours, so anything less just wouldn't have cut the mustard. The first two (or three) films however work for western audiences since the storylines poke fun at our own eccentricities, also for the fact that as civilised people we cannot survive without our technological creations. Indeed we just look totally ridiculous trying to get along without all our mod-cons as well as having a complete lack of basic knowledge to live off the land.

Going back to the original movie, creator Jamie Uys was largely met with praise and critical acclaim for generating such a humanising story in a time when the term "greed is good" was becoming fashionable to those with more dollars than sense (cents). However, equal derision was voiced about the exploitative presentation of these Bushmen living an idealist lifestyle, whereas the real truth is that they were (and still are) fighting to survive in very desperate and trying conditions (as explained in the extras below). As much as the story being told was created purely through one's imagination, the point of the whole exercise I'm sure was to reflect on how much modern society has become a slave to its own ingenuity. As human beings, we are struggling to survive in a world that is of our own creation, indeed this film helps us to realise that we don't need half of the things that commercial enterprise says we do.

Gods Must Be Crazy 1 & 2, The
The Gods Must Be Crazy ultimately tells us that as modern folk we have little appreciation for the simple things in life and that maybe we should slow down to smell the flowers once in a while. Also, our sense of worth for those around us is slowly being eradicated, especially with the current craze of contrived Reality TV that promotes the long-standing tradition of "me first and bugger the rest of you". Personally, I feel that all this negative mentality is to our detriment as a species and ultimately this way of thinking becomes Wall Street on a whole new level, ready to haunt us again for the 21st century.

And just to lighten up things once more, watch out for Jamie Uys' cameo as The Reverend in TGMBC1.

Movies
Spoilers ensue in the following paragraphs, so please avert your eyes to avoid disappointment.

The Gods Must Be Crazy
In the remote regions of the inhospitable Kalahari Desert live the local Bushmen tribes who have etched out an existence for themselves during the last 20,000 years. Untainted by modern influences, one tribe is documented by a film crew. We learn about the Bushmen's relatively primitive existence where there are no calendars or schedules to adhere to, instead only learning how to extract what they require from the earth rather than pursuing the accumulation of riches etc. Their verbal communication is also a rather curious dialect where a series of pops and clicks are emanated from their mouths. They believe that the Gods supply everything they need, although once in a while the Bushmen look up in the sky and notice the Gods becoming restless every so often (usually when low-flying planes go by).

But one day, a strange object falls down to earth unlike anything the tribe has ever seen before, which is actually a coke bottle flung from a thoughtless aircraft pilot. They marvel at this wondrous object and soon discover its many uses above and beyond what bone and wood is capable of. However, since the Gods only gave the tribe one of these things, unrest between the villagers soon develops as they fight over possession of the object for their daily chores. Resident Bushman Xixo (N!xau) decides that he must get rid of this "evil thing" before it can do any more harm to his people. And so Xixo ventures forth towards the end of the earth and hurl the evil thing off the edge so that no one else endures its wrath.

Along the way, Xixo meets up with some of the strangest creatures he has ever seen ... modern man. Come to think of it, he's never seen anyone else before in his life. Animal researcher and poo-collector Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) is the master of his own limbs until The Reverend (Jamie Uys) asks Andrew to pick up the beautiful school teacher Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo). To make things worse, Andrew's own Friday man Mpudi (Michael Thys) hasn't fixed the Anti-Christ yet (his jeep) so he must drive it without certain luxuries, like brakes. Adding to his frustration, suave tour operator Jack Hind (Nic De Jager) outdoes him at every turn. But just as things get back to normality, terrorist Sam Boga (Louw Verwey) takes hostage of Kate and her schoolkids after having killed some of the President's (Ken Gampu) key cabinet staff. The unwitting trio of Andrew, Mpudi and Xixo find themselves saving the day in the middle of this dangerous situation, although their heroic actions result in more hilarious outcomes.

The Gods Must Be Crazy II
It might as well be yesterday for all Xixo cares, but it has been nine years after the events in TGMBC1 where he first met the Heavy People outside of his homeland. Life goes on for his tribe when one day his two children, older sister Xisa (Nadies) and younger brother Xiri (Eiros), ask to go hunting with him and his fellow Bushmen. He lets them come along but then Xixo tells his two children to go back to the village after they discover a sick and dying elephant. On the way home the kids discover a strange-looking monstrosity with round legs and they decide to explore it further. As it turns out, this is a poacher's truck holding the remains of various animals as well as a huge reservoir of water, the likes of which the children have never seen so much of in one place. However, the beast starts to roar and it lurches forward leading the children away from their village and distressed father.

Meanwhile, American Lawyer Ann Taylor (Lena Farugia) is in Africa about to give a conference lecture. Local courier pilot Jack (Richard Loring) offers her a quick round trip to view some of the sights in an oddly built ultra-light aircraft. He delivers a package to zoology vet Stephen Marshall (Hans Strydom) who in turn commandeers this aircraft with Ann still inside, however a storm is brewing and they must make an emergency landing on top of a huge tree. Ann then finds herself experiencing the African wildlife first-hand. Unexpectedly, the two get separated after he modifies the aircraft with some off-the-cuff bush mechanics to get it flying again, they then struggle to find each other in this vast landscape.

Before you can say Hakuna Matata, Ann continually meets up with roaming Xixo in search of his children, whilst a duelling pair African and Cuban of soldiers duke it out to see who takes prisoner of the other every few minutes. The children also get separated when the truck starts heading back the way it came after a navigation error. As expected, Xixo saves the day and eventually finds his children, the poachers go to jail, Ann and Stephen get it together and the two soldiers learn some valuable lessons in life.

Gods Must Be Crazy 1 & 2, The
Video
Sony (Columbia/Tristar) have been carving up a reputation of late with their revolutionary re-mastering suite to restore some of the all-time film classics such as Monty Python's double act of The Holy Grail and Life Of Brian. This tradition continues with The Gods Must Be Crazy 1 & 2, with the image of these films at their very best ever; Sony have done a remarkable job trying to keep the omnipresent defects at bay. Eventually one has to realise that no amount of digital clean-ups will ever get rid of them, although I wouldn't have it any other way myself. All of the lovingly scissored rough-cuts are shown here in their full glory just as we remembered them back when the last days of disco were dying an honourable death. Honestly, this is what adds to the charm of the film and I would have been horrified had Sony decided to make the image totally rock-solid and blemish-free, but no doubt that the budget for any complete restoration would have exceeded that of the movies themselves. There are many artefacts that plague both movies, but Sony's (limited) restoration efforts have made every scene shine as brightly as they first did on the silver screen. Also, TGMBC1 is a dual-layer disc whereas TGMBC2 is only a single-layer.

The Gods Must Be Crazy
Presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio, the extremely low-budget for this film is even more obvious with its DVD incarnation than seen on any other home video format or most recent television repeat broadcast. The image is more enjoyable on a television rather than a computer monitor as the former doesn't quite show up all the nasty flaws. However the one thing you can't get by here is the amount of grain present, which in turn has an unusual colour gradient problem. This awkward looking imperfection is hard to describe until you see it in action but is only at its most obvious in the green and brown hues of the African settings. Surprisingly though, the colourful clothing of the villagers and school children are remarkably rich in their rainbow hues but still exhibit the gradient problem mentioned earlier. Also, when it comes to shots of the animals and subsequent character reactions, the grain problem increases exponentially when you just see them in certain poses that suit the comic situations at hand.

Black levels are surprisingly deep with no hint of low-level video noise, this is especially incredible in the various night-time sequences, which is no mean feat considering that the cheapest of cheap film stock was used for this filmmaker's labour of love. Shadow detail is sometimes wanting for better delineation when there is no direct light being shone on the darker areas, but again Sony has to be congratulated for their diligence in providing the best possible presentation for each and every shot. Detail on the whole is sharper than expected but can lose focus and definition around the edges depending on the lens used, although considering how this was filmed (and subsequently produced) you still aren't missing any important bits. Compression artefacts are inevitable due to the excessive grain and film defects, but it isn't that much of an issue in the end. Overall, every scene is perfectly watchable.

Technically the source material is inferior, but the re-mastering is well-above your average expectations.

The Gods Must Be Crazy II
Presented in its original 1.85:1 ratio, the clarity of the image has increased in many areas. Focus, shadow detail and even grain are slightly improved upon with much less of the earlier colour rendering problems, but it still retains the same home-made feel to its rough film production values sported in the original movie. There are actually more image stabilisation issues in this second movie than what was evident in the first though. Apart from that, there isn't much else to distinguish between the two films.

If you were ever in doubt that these films were not genuine documentaries, then the blue-screen type effects of the Bush children gallivanting around the monster truck will confirm your suspicions once and for all. Whilst the obvious nature of this VFX technique is evident with the all-too-clear sharpness of the foreground objects and children in shot, I have to say that these sequences are quite convincing, more so than more recent big-budget efforts of late. There are a couple of real location shots where Xisa is on top of the water-trailer and Xiri is almost being run down by the huge truck itself; these alone made me wonder about how much their safety was put in jeopardy as the latter is quite scary considering.

The sequel uses a healthier film stock, but has the same outdated yet adorable production methods.

Audio
The soundtracks for both movies were obviously mastered from the cinema distribution prints since the original multi-track recordings are probably either missing or have been destroyed. However I'd love for Sony to prove me wrong and surprise us with a new 5.1 remix later on, but then everyone knows what happened to The Terminator a couple of years back. TGMBC1 is indisputably a mono mix whereas TGMBC2 has a fuller two-channel flavour to it bordering on the stereo side of things. Both movies are just as memorable as when we first experienced them, so you won't miss anything that you've heard before.

Gods Must Be Crazy 1 & 2, The
The music in TGMBC1 is by John Boshoff whereas TGMBC2 has Charles Fox stepping in, but you'd be hard pressed to notice the differences between the two. Either way, they are both quite jovial where they need to be, which keeps the mood of the film light even with some of the more violent or sorrowful aspects of the storylines. Thankfully, dialogue is discernible all the way throughout.

The Gods Must Be Crazy
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono) with English, German and Hungarian dubs, they are naturally restrictive in fidelity but not nearly as bad as some other mono movies I have heard of late. The amount of artefacts present are too numerous to mention, but ultimately this doesn't present a problem for the viewer as it adds yet another layer of charm to the ancient documentary look of the 60s and 70s. This by itself grounds the over-the-top ridiculous nature of the slapstick routines that wouldn't be nearly as funny as if everything was crystal clear in both image and sound. There is no subwoofer or surround activity obviously and it will sound the same on a TV or fully-fledged home cinema system.

The Gods Must Be Crazy II
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo?) with English, French, German, Italian and Hungarian dubs, the first thing you will notice is the more even spread across the front left, right and centre speakers. And depending on your home theatre setup, selecting Pro-Logic can also provide a slight surround experience that thankfully does not inadvertently screw up the mix with any unintentional bleeding in the rear channels etc. The subwoofer again has nothing to do here but I think that this is to the film's benefit as it would sound quite out of place to the amateur feeling of its production.

Basically, the fun and games continue on just as they did fifteen years ago. Also, the DVD packaging states there is a Spanish soundtrack on offer, but I could not find one for either film.

Extras
This is where the package falls over, but not because of the supplemental material itself. As it stands, the main featurette for TGMBC1 is the most valuable resource on offer, however there is one minor oversight here that becomes a major setback to the already limited material available for our education.

Also, each of these DVDs house the same three Trailers of what can only be termed as the Free series of movies; that is Born Free, Living Free and Running Free. The first two films are well-meaning but typically 1960s melodrama that express a genuine message for the conservation of natural wildlife, of which this issue is well recognised around the world more than ever before. However, if you thought these earlier films were naff with all that overacting involved, just wait until you see the final 1990s one. This typifies the more cheesy nature of film productions by giving a human voice to a wretched animal as well as using a cringe-inducing American voice-over man ... anyone for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron?

The Gods Must Be Crazy
There is a touching featurette made by Daniel Reisenfeld about N!xau, Journey To Nyae Nyae (25 mins) as Daniel visits the hard-to-find remote settlement where N!xau lives; once when he is being treated for tuberculosis and then thirteen years afterwards in some newly developed villages and subsequent schools in Baraka. Along the way, we see a somewhat disturbing image of N!xau as an international celebrity. The videographer captures his own personal experiences as well as disappointment of the relative poverty that N!xau and his fellow village dwellers live in. As much as the visitor deplores the initial conditions that these villagers experience, the documentary almost contradicts itself slightly when a gift of solar panels, laptop PC and digital camera are provided for their school. I don't mind that we see this occurring since it will help the children educate themselves much better than ever before, but I would have liked to have seen a new water supply being installed for them or similar. Regardless, it's gratifying to see these kids take to this new technology with gusto and they also get to watch the movie that their visitor N!xau stars in, much to the delight of the children. The charity organisation who donated this computer equipment only provided one of these marvels to the school, so I just hope that the villagers don't feel the need to chuck this thing off the end of the earth as well. It's also nice to hear them speak their native language with all its pops and clicks and without any of the artificial xylophone effects on top. Sadly, N!xau has passed away, but he did so doing what he always does out in the bush. We see many of the local communities then paying their respects to the man who some say helped the world to recognise Africa's fight against Apartheid, even if he wasn't directly involved in the movement. To top off the disc, there are but nine Baraka School Photos taken by the kids with their new electronic toy.

Now to the downside of this featurette - even though this documentary has been supported with five different language subtitles, it is actually missing one for English. This is not so much the fault of the videographer but Sony themselves, so all of N!xau's translations go completely un-interpreted even though the half of the dialogue is in English. Sony has inexplicably always had a history of subtitles going screwy with their DVDs, the most famous mistakes being Monty Python-esque in nature and ironically happening to their own re-mastered efforts of The Holy Grail and Meaning of Life. Maybe Sony will eventually offer a replacement disc to fix this glaring error like they did with their flawed discs.

The Gods Must Be Crazy II
There is a much smaller featurette available entitled Buster Reynolds Remembers Jamie Uys (6 mins) that intersperses making-of footage with a recent interview of the cinematographer reminiscing about his experiences with the already legendary director. Even for its extremely short running time and limited behind-the-scenes material, it is still a worthy piece of footage that complements these two movies.

Gods Must Be Crazy 1 & 2, The
I'm not sure why an audio commentary hasn't been generated for either of these films, but I hope that cinematographer Buster Reynolds will some day produce his own, even without the help of Sony. I'm sure his anecdotes would be just as entertaining and humorous as the Gods movies were.

Overall
Today's average film-goer is one that sometimes places more importance on the quality of visual images and soundtrack rather than the actual story itself. Indeed, today's big-budget moviemakers feel that it's a lot easier to impress us with their whiz-bang special effects in the hope of blinding us to the fact that there isn't much of a plot to go along with it. The clunky film editing techniques used to portray the events in The Gods Must Be Crazy are archaic at best, yet it's these same ancient-looking methods that give these films their unique flavour that no modern AVID-induced equivalent can provide. Whilst the use of reverse-motion, under-cranking of film camera speed and judicious speed-ups of key scenes do not portray a sense of real-world realism, it's the obviousness of them that enhances our enjoyment of what we see. The film succeeds by playing against our sensibilities rather than going along with them, so as to help us understand what Xixo finds so humorous or so bizarre about the things that us Heavy People get up to; as if what we do to each other is just a game and nothing more.

Even with the limited (and faulty) extras on board, these two films are worth the investment on DVD if you enjoyed them the very first time before. As it turns out, many of my friends aren't too fond of these movies to ever want to watch them again, and some can't even recall that they even existed. For me, they take me back to my own childhood when I could enjoy these sorts of films through innocent eyes and appreciate the wonderful journey of adventure that they entailed. Call me nostalgic, but there aren't many other movies in this world remotely like these and indeed Jamie Uys created his own unique film genre that noone else has been able to duplicate (and probably wouldn't even want to, except maybe Hong Kong).

Until Sony fix up their little niggly regarding the missing English translations of the main featurette, then you might have second thoughts about purchasing this brilliant duo of semi-documentary movies. But if this is something you can live with for the moment, you can pick up this two-disc pack with confidence and utter those words that were never recited in the movies proper: "Who was that Bushman?"


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