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THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY I & II

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  N!xau, Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, Lena Farugia, Hans Strydom
Director:  Jamie Uys
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 (I), 1.85:1 (II)
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  109 Minutes (I), 98 Minutes (II)
Release Date:  February 3, 2004

“Aye, yi yi yi yi…”

Films ***

There may be a lesson to learn here that if you make a good enough film, people are going to notice.  South African filmmaker Jamie Uys crafted a low budget comedy with no stars, filmed on location in and around the Kalahari Desert, focusing on a real African bushman and his strange adventure with a Coke bottle.  That film was The Gods Must Be Crazy, a modest little gem that probably at first seemed to have little chance to make it outside its native country.  Four years later, it had grown into a worldwide hit mostly from word of mouth, and it has remained a kind of cult favorite ever since.

I know I’ve loved the picture ever since seeing it for the first time.  Uys’ movie is a modern comic masterpiece, blending all the best of slapstick, satire and situation into a non-stop laugh riot.  Everyone I know who’s seen the film has fallen under its original and endearing spell.

It basically tells three stories that eventually entwine.  Beginning like a humorously toned take on a National Geographic special, we are introduced to the bushmen:  a tribe of primitive people who live contentedly in a world where you or I would perish in no time.  They have no concept of possession, laws, or society:  their lives are peaceful and happy.

But a discarded Coke bottle from a passing plane lands in their midst, and they’ve never seen anything like it.  They fashion creative uses for the so-called “gift from the gods”, but soon the one unique object in their lives creates possessiveness, envy, and heartbreak.  Finally determining the thing to be evil, the bushman Xixo (N!xau) sets off on a journey to the end of the world to get rid of it.

The second story involves the arrival of a new schoolteacher (Prinsloo) and the zoologist (Weyers) sent to welcome her to the desert.  The problem?  He’s extremely nervous and awkward around women.  In a ramshackle jeep dubbed the Antichrist (with no brakes and no way to restart it if it stalls), there’s plenty of mayhem afoot.

The third story follows a terrorist and his attempts to flee the law.  How all three stories come together is a mirthful surprise I’ll leave for you to discover.

Uys is a throwback to the geniuses of silent comedy.  He even utilizes primitive techniques, like slowing or speeding the film mid-scene, or reversing and repeating…all gimmicks of old that help to enhance physical comedy and elevate it to new heights.  Some of the great gags, apart from the poor scientist’s bumblings, include the jeep ending up in a tree, the charging rhino that stamps out fires, and some misadventures with a gate that has to be closed.

Most surprise hits end up with a sequel, and amusingly enough, this one was no exception.  Uys returned to the bush with his faithful star N!xau for The Gods Must Be Crazy II in 1988, a delightfully welcome sequel that proved that magic could be concocted once again from simple formulas.

As before, there are three intertwining stories, starting with Xixo searching for his two children after they accidentally end up in back of a poacher’s truck.  The second involves again a man and a woman out of sorts in the desert; a lawyer (Farugia) and another zoologist (Strydom), who doesn’t have the same awkwardness as the one in the first film, but still ends up in situations over his head with his lady companion.  The final strand features a pair of warring soldiers, who keep switching back and forth on which one is the other’s prisoner!

The sequel manages the same sweet, funny tone as the first, with just as many laughs.  The starring vehicle this time is a tiny plane that has to be seen to be believed! 

There actually was one more sequel (of sorts), made in China and co-directed by Uys with a Chinese director.  Though N!xau returned, the third installment fell flat and hard.  It’s difficult to come by, and by all accounts, not worth the effort to do so.

So just think of the first two as the complete adventures of Xixo and his strange “civilized” friends.  These are terrific comedies that warmed the hearts and tickled the funny bones of moviegoers all over the world, and will no doubt continue to do so with this double disc release.

Video ***

Both films are well represented, showing the beauty of the African landscape in all its glorious colors and tones.  A few print problems are noticeable from time to time…a scratch here, a splotch there, but nothing that really detracts from the overall viewing.  A few bits of stock footage stand out for being more worn looking, but overall, these films hold up well on DVD.

Audio **

The simple stereo tracks are serviceable; with post-dubbed dialogue, music and sound effects, the mix is level and suitable; nothing demanding.

Features **

The first film contains the featurette “Journey to Nyae Nyae”, which was a great idea poorly executed.  We go back to the Kalahari and meet up with N!xau, but none of what he says is translated either with narration or subtitles…what was the point?  We also learn that many of the charming ideas put forth about the bushmen in the films are false…kind of depressing.  But we see a school of young kids watching the first film and laughing like crazy, proving comedy is indeed the universal language.  There are also some photos from that school and bonus trailers.

The second film features a tribute to the late Jamie Uys and some additional bonus trailers.

Summary:

I can’t imagine anybody sitting down to The Gods Must Be Crazy and not laughing loud, hard and often.  These modest gems evolved into modern comedy classics thanks to a willing worldwide audience.  Putting both films into one fairly priced two disc set makes for a nice DVD package for collectors.