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TV or not TV?

22 October 2012, 11:48

I do not watch much TV. I purposely avoided getting DSTV, as in the eighties I purposely avoided getting MNet. I have the four free-to-air channels and they are largely vapid, sometimes execrable, mostly ignorable.

Now this is going to give away my age more than anything, but my wife and I settled down to watch an episode of Jeeves and Wooster, and I switched on the TV prior to putting in the DVD, and ‘Coraline’ was on SABC3. We sat down and watched it all the way to the end.

In case you don’t know the story, here is a brief summary: When Coraline moves to an old house, she feels bored and neglected by her parents. She finds a hidden door with a bricked up passage. During the night, she crosses the passage and finds a parallel world where everybody has buttons instead of eyes, with caring parents and all her dreams coming true. When the Other Mother invites Coraline to stay in her world forever, the girl refuses and finds that the alternate reality where she is trapped is only a trick to lure her. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life - only much better. But when her adventure turns dangerous, and her counterfeit parents (including Other Mother) try to keep her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to get back home - and save her family. Which she achieve with the help of a scraggly cat with moth-eaten ears.

The entire movie was filmed using stop motion and contained no CG whatsoever. The story is by Neil Gaiman, which is always a plus, but it was so beautifully filmed and told, that I watched it through to the end. So score one for SABC3.

That is not the point of this little post, however.

My older son used to do a lot of 3D animation, and in fact worked at an ad agency producing top quality animation for their clients. He also had a side-line, where he produced animated clips for doctors, showing an operation bloodlessly. He studied dozens of hours of the personal footage of the operations they’d performed, the rendered them accurately and bloodlessly. This way, the patient could see what the operation entailed, without having to see the accompanying gore.

A little on down the line and we have the absolutely marvellous Clover ads, and the new Bakers ads. They’re incredibly expensive to produce, but they’re hugely effective at the same time, and also terribly overdone. That is why I single out those two.

As with movies, for every ‘Finding Nemo’, we have twenty movies like ‘The Wild’ or ‘The Ant Bully’. 3D animation is expensive for ads, but cheap for movies, which is why there is such a glut of them. And as with all mass produced products, they vary from so-so to awful.

Then we have the issue of voice-acting. ‘Finding Nemo’ had no big-name actors; it was brilliant. ‘Shrek’ had some good and some so-so. Eddie Murphy was hilarious, but Cameron Diaz? Just because she has a fifteen foot wide mouth, does not mean she’ll be a good Princess Fiona.

Locally, some years ago, we had the SA Homeloans ads, with Alex Jay doing the voice-over. Now he may, and in fact does, have a great voice, but he’s not a voice actor. Being famous is not enough. ‘Toy Story’ had no really big names in it, and it was brilliant, as have been all the Ice Age movies I’ve seen to date.

A movie is a collaborative venture, and can fall down on the smallest detail. And voice acting is not a small detail. Anything but, in fact.

Which brings me very neatly to ‘Jock of the Bushveld’. If  you can’t hear me sigh, it’s because I’m sighing in parenthesis.

To be absolutely fair here, I haven’t seen it, but because it’s a South African venture, we’ve seen extended trailers on TV and I can only say that, if it were on TV, I would carry on with my plan to watch Jeeves and Wooster. (Which I highly recommend, by the way. It stars Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster.)

The artwork, surely the beginning of any product of this nature, is poor, the animation wooden and the characters lifeless. And of course, they had to use American leads. Donald Sutherland as Sir Percy Fitzpatrick?

And when they have interviews with the actors, who tell you how hilarious and, or, moving certain scenes are, when you can clearly see they’re not, then you know the movie’s in trouble. Why can we not do it? If my son, with his limited resources, could produce a two minute animated movie that had an audience of amateur film critics utterly engrossed and laughing at all the right places, while sympathising with the character, then surely someone with a big budget could do something at least as good?

Looking at Clover and Bakers, I know we have the talent, so what is it?

If you’ve ever seen ‘Valiant’, you’ll know it’s not money. ‘Valiant’, the story of a carrier pigeon in WWII, was made on a shoestring budget by an unknown studio in the UK, and people like John Cleese did the voices for a share of the profits and no up-front payment. I may be biased, but I bought it and loved it! It was a wonderful story, well told.

Beautiful artwork, beautiful animation, really good voice acting and a solid story.

If you cannot get it right with a story as well-loved and uniquely South African as ‘Jock of the Bushveld’, then how will you ever get it right?

We have good actors in this country: use them. That’s a start.

Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar? Morgan Freeman as Mandela? Do me a favour!

I could almost guarantee you that, if my son had the means at his disposal, and a quarter of the budget, he would make a ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ that would make South African and international audiences sit up and take notice.

And he wouldn’t need American actors to do it.

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