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May 23 2018
It is your turn: on 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle'
26 December 2017

If all the world is a game and we are but players in it, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the newest old kid on the movie block

Jumanji (1995), about a board game that comes alive, is remarkable for a young Kirsten Dunst and some nifty special effects. Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s eponymous book, Jumanji tells the story of young Alan Parrish, who one evening in 1969 plays a board game, Jumanji, with Sarah, his best friend. With the roll of the dice, the game comes alive, swallows Alan, while vicious bats chase Sarah.

The movie moves ahead 26 years to 1995, when Judy (Dunst) and Peter move into the deserted Parrish mansion with their aunt—their parents are no more. The siblings find the game, start playing and release a grown up Alan (Robin Williams) and all other manner of nasties. The three figure out the only way to set everything right is by finishing the game with Sarah, which they do after vicious jungle vines, white hunters, lions, monkeys and rhinos emerge from the game.

Old and new

Director Joe Johnston, who began his career as concept artist for Star Wars, created arresting visuals for the movie, combining puppetry, animatronics and digital effects. Those were the days of SFX geeks cracking their palms in naked wonder at ILM’s software specially developed for Jumanji, which allowed for realistic hair/fur and facial expressions.

Released on December 15, 1995, the film, despite critics not taking to it, went on to become a box office smash, spawning a spiritual sequel, Zathura: A Space Adventure, a television series and a video game. And now comes Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which takes the original premise and updates it in expected and unexpected ways.

Reboot, rewind

From a board game, Jumanji has turned into a videogame (naturally) and instead of the game coming into the real world, the players go into the jungle of the game. Four teenagers find the game when they are clearing the basement. They go into the game as avatars which are quite different from their actual selves, or maybe not. There is Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a daring archaeologist-adventurer who is the avatar for nerdy Spencer. Cartographer Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black) is prettiest girl in class, Bethany’s, avatar. Martha, a bookworm, has commando Ruby Roundhouse as her game-self, while zoologist Franklin Finbar is Fridge, a jock’s avatar.

 

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Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), the wicked hunter from the original movie, is the antagonist, and the house Alan Parrish built in the jungle makes an appearance. While there was negative chatter on the internet when Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was announced (being too close to the death of Robin Williams), the movie has found favour with the critics.

Playing on

There are quite a few movies based on video games (how lazy are we?) and then there are movies where a game comes alive moving from the game environment to the real world on film—how is that for irony?

Chess, lends itself to reel/real and in the sword-and-sorcery saga, Excalibur,features a brutal game with living pawns. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stonehad wizard chess, with the pieces coming alive, and Ron’s knight sacrificing himself for Harry. The bright and busy animation film Wreck-It Ralph follows the life of Wreck-it Ralph, the antagonist in an arcade game and his quest for a medal to gain his game’s respect.

Michael Douglas gets trapped in the game world as lines between the two are blurred in David Fincher’s The Game, while Adam Sandler decides to fast-forward the boring/unpleasant bits of his life with a universal remote in Click. Sandler was also part of Chris Columbus’ underwhelming Pixels, where arcade game characters, including Pac-Man, are out to destroy the earth. Danny Boyle’s The Beach had beautifully visualised the game in Leonardo Di Caprio’s head as he waits for trespassers. And not to be left behind, there is Table No 21 where Paresh Rawal plays a scary game show host.

Will the game overwhelm the movie or will celluloid win? There is only way to find out—roll the dice already!

 

 

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