Sunday, September 27, 2015

2016 Part 1 (Ghana, 2011)


In 1912, cartoonist Windsor McCay used the available technology to make Gertie the Dinosaur, a short film in which a live action McCay appeared to be interacting with a cartoon dinosaur. In 1945, using a related but much more sophisticated technique, MGM gave us Gene Kelly dancing with a cartoon mouse in Anchors Aweigh. Finally, in 2011, 2016 director Ninja used the technology available to him to integrate ColecoVision quality computer animated aliens into footage of various people bickering on their front porches.



2016 is a movie that I am obligated to review by virtue of my having long ago joined the internet chorus of people trumpeting on about its insane trailer—and this despite the fact that all of you with any interest in seeing it have most likely tracked it down already. In that case, you already know that it is essentially a no-budget remake of Independence Day set in the suburbs of Ghana. And if that sounds like a massive over-reach to you, you obviously know very little about Ghanaian action cinema, and even less about the films of maverick multi-hyphenate Ninja.


As you might recall, I introduced Ninja to 4DK’s readers with my review of his/her B 14, an earlier film in which the producer-director-writer-cinematographer-editor employed no end of bargain basement movie magic to tell a tale involving a child crime lord, a voodoo powered android that shoots endless lengths of chain out of his palms, and a lot of CG blood spatter. Those who are fond of that film will find much cause for reminiscence in 2016, as it contains most of the same cast and locations.

2016 lacks the breakneck pacing of B 14, in part because Ninja chooses to give his alien invasion tale the simmering build-up of a 1970s disaster movie—or, come to think of it, Independence Day. In that tradition, we are first given a portent of the disaster to come, in a scene in which a scientist seated at a table full of computer monitors in front of a white sheet catches sight of the alien mother ship orbiting just above earth’s atmosphere. We are then given a glimpse inside the spaceship, where a trio of alien creatures eyes a hologram of the Earth covetously. These appear to have been lifted from a bootleg Alien vs. Predator handheld video game and mashed-up into one franchise-bridging hybrid—a Predatalien, if you will.


Then it is time to meet the large cast of characters whose lives will be effected by the disaster. This is accomplished in a series of vignettes featuring various pairs of people having animated conversations either on the front porches of their houses or on the stoops outside their apartments. Much soda pop is consumed. My take away from this is that (a) Ninja was not equipped to shoot indoors and (b) it’s hot in Ghana.

Unfortunately, the version of 2016 that I watched was not subtitled. I’m confident that, if it had been, 2016 would have revealed itself to be, if not a more complex film than it otherwise appeared, at least a more convoluted one, as there is a lot of chatter going on throughout. In any case, this is just my interpretation, but it seemed to me that all of those conversations during its first act were fractious in tone. It also seemed that the pending alien visitation was the subject of most of them, and that a lot of incredulity was being expressed over the idea that visitors from outer space would choose Ghana as their touchdown point. Meanwhile, the scientist, Mr. Oppong (played by B 14’s Ebenezer Donkor) has been sounding the alarm about the maybe invasion and meeting with a lot of skeptical pushback from the populace, who just want to be left to sit in the sun and drink their pop.


Whatever was being discussed, what was unmistakable was the frequency of references to Ghana in these conversations. And this was something I loved about 2016: unlike other productions, which try to make vague their provenance in order to have more international appeal, it seems determined to never let you forget that it is a film made by Ghanaians in Ghana about Ghana. It even seems to take a peculiar sort of patriotic pride in the idea that Ghana would be the target of an alien attack. Whether intended or not, this puts in unflattering contrast the chauvinism of those many American films that take for granted that any life form who would take the trouble of traveling billions of light years to Earth would first stop off in New York or Washington.

Anyway, Mr. Oppong’s “I told you so” moment comes when the aliens contact him directly to communicate their plans. This is followed by the film’s one English language sequence, in which a somnolent TV newsreader relays the Aliens’ intentions in the most blasé manner possible. The aliens, she tells us, have “shown interest in Ghana” and, after some investigation, have determined that it is “the most peaceful land on Earth.” Because of this, they have decided that they will “migrate here by 2016.” Of course, they must first wipe out the country’s entire population. “The destruction,” she concludes, “can be any moment from now.”


I have to say that this plan shows a shrewd understanding on the aliens’ part of the ignorance and indifference with which most of the world at large regards virtually anything that happens in Africa. Seriously, if the entire population of Ghana was replaced by insectoid space aliens, could you imagine anyone at your office job being aware of it, even if George Clooney had made a documentary about it?

With this revelation out of the way, all the carnage promised by 2016’s trailer is soon to follow. It will be noted, however, that the aliens take a very intimate, one-at-a-time approach to exterminating the populace, in that almost all of these scenes involve a single alien stalking a single fleeing victim through the deserted streets. These sequences momentarily give 2016 the feel of a Friday the 13th style slasher movie, albeit one shot entirely in the blazing sunlight. It is also these sequences that deliver both of the trailer’s most notorious money shots, by which I of course refer to the toddler who gets kicked into the stratosphere and the lady who gets squashed by a very poorly rendered airborne sports car.




In saying that 2016 is more deliberately paced than B 14, I in no way mean to imply that it is a less entertaining film. The sheer lunacy of its action and special effects sequences is enough to maintain an air of excited anticipation throughout its more talky bits. And those bits themselves contain much to keep us entertained, such as the impressive assortment of bootleg tee shirts worn by the cast and the odd mundane details that Ninja chooses to focus on. The only way you could be disappointed by it is to expect it to live up to its trailer, a feat that no film could accomplish.


Like many African exploitation films, 2016 became an instant franchise at the moment of it being shorn into two halves. Thus Part 1 ends with a cliffhanger in which the aliens deliver to Mr. Oppong some kind of ultimatum. What is it? I have no idea (no subtitles, remember?) Nonetheless I am going to ask that you remain in suspense until I get around to watching Part 2. Stay tuned!

No comments: