Nations around the world have made indelible contributions to cinematic history: The U.S., England, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, China and India, among others. We can now add another country to that list: Ghana.
This tiny West African country probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of movies, but it is home to a lively, burgeoning film industry producing what have to be some of the most eyebrow-raising films out there.
To be clear, these are not “good”movies in the traditional sense.
They are produced with the cheapest equipment available and invariably have a home-movie ambiance about them. The acting (as much as can be judged by an English speaker) is not the best, and the story lines are, to be charitable, let’s say challenging.
Then there’s the special effects. Oh, the special effects.
The films of the mysterious writer-director Ninja feature some of the most eye-poppingly tawdry computer animation in the history of film. The makers of SciFi Originals wish they could be this bad.
If the lifelike Gollum of “The Lord of the Rings” films is the Sistine Chapel of computer animation, the creatures of films such as “2016,” “The Killer,” and “The Godfather” (no, not that Godfather) are like a child’s crayon drawings that weren’t even good enough to put on the refrigerator door.
That said, the images are unforgettable.
Ever wonder what it would look like for a house cat to crawl out of the mouth of a space goblin, rendered in special effects worthy of a used car dealership commercial? Look no further than “Nkrato,” one of Ninja’s several multi-part science fiction action epics.
Ever want to see a baby get placekicked by an alien? “2016” is where it’s at.
So if these movies are so horrible, why should anyone be excited about them?
Well, for one, they are entertaining as hell, especially the trailers, which feature Ghana’s version of the “In a world where …” voiceover guy. I’d take Ghana’s guy over Hollywood’s any day. He eschews the super-serious baritone for a voice that might be described as sounding like Fat Albert on PCP. All he really does is shout the film’s title, about 15 times in the space of 30 seconds.
The films themselves are fascinating in their own way. While the trailers make them out to be non-stop, action-packed thrillers, the reality is that they’re surprisingly slow-paced, largely domestic dramas.
“12:00,” the first third of which is available on YouTube, opens with an extended argument between a mother and daughter about taking the garbage out. Strangely riveting stuff, if only because of the broken-English subtitles.
It’s quite a while before a flying saucer even shows up, and when it does, it serves only to ferry around a trio of 20-something idealistic humans who spend most of their time in an underground base discussing how to make Ghana the next first-world country.
What at first appears (and, to be honest, probably is) amateurish meandering in the plot gradually coalesces into a kind of slow-burn build-up. After all, the film is more than three hours long. Ninja knows that when you’re working on the epic scale, you can take your time.
If a five-minute scene of two people silently watching TV sounds boring, just know that by the end of the film’s first installment, you’ll be dying to know why one of them was turned into a robot.
You may find yourself unexpectedly drawn into the lives the wide cast of characters, apparently unrelated but who, by the end of the first part, are tied together by the menace of a deadly disease, presumably emanating from uncollected trash.
Sounds awesome, right?
And though the bulk of the films don’t appear to be as surreal as these, there’s no getting around how prolific the industry is. The Ghanaian film business seems to be related to the similarly booming Nigerian one, which has become so productive it’s garnered the name Nollywood. These West African films are invariably cheap, but the sheer productivity of the industries is fascinating.
I can’t help but imagine the up-and-coming Ghanian filmmakers like Ninjas — running around the dirt roads of their village, bargain-bin digital camera in one hand and a last-minute scrawled script in the other — are carrying on the spirit of those intrepid founders of Hollywood, shooting quickie two-reelers in the blazing sun of the backlots of freshly built studios.
Who knows? Maybe some day the cinema of West Africa will grow into a major world entertainment power.
Unfortunately for western audiences, the movies are produced for the straight-to-video market in their home country, and unless you live near one of the handful of sales locations listed at the beginning of the film, you’re not going to be able to pick it up at Family Video, or Netflix for that matter.
Thankfully, the Internet has started to remedy this situation. Trailers have been available on YouTube for a while now, but the full films have just recently started to surface on the Web, too.
So, next time you’re thinking about plopping down in the couch and browsing Netflix, why not give a Ghanaian film a shot instead? In any case, it can’t be as bad as the latest Michael Bay movie.