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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Blu-ray Review)

The bar wasn’t very high for me when it came to my expectations for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. 1995’s Jumanji is not a good movie, let alone some untouchable classic. The idea of taking Jumanji and putting a new spin on it may have seemed problematic for some and for a good reason, but this 2017 update manages to be another example of how to do nostalgic appropriation right. While the film takes on the premise that was previously explored already, it has some solid new ideas, a game cast and enough adventure-based excitement to make the movie one of the better video game movies not based on a video game. Now having been a monster smash hit at the box office and one of Sony’s biggest hits ever, there is a solid Blu-ray set to further expand on all the fun audiences had.

Film:

Picking up exactly where the first film left off, the Jumanji board game finds itself in a new home, and after being rejected by kids more interested in video games, the magic of the game turns it into a video game console. Cut to twenty years later, and some kids (Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain and Morgan Turner) find themselves in detention where they must clean up a basement. This leads to the discovery of (you guessed it) the Jumanji video game. Turning on the console, the kids are transported inside of the world of the game, now taking the forms of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan.

The setup is all fairly standard stuff, but essential, because it shows just how much effort the main stars are putting into playing against type. This is an ingenious concept that already finds the film on better footing than the dark and mean-spirited original. Rather than have characters fake being awestruck by random CG visuals (ugly even for their time), the stars are tasked with coming to terms with both the dangerous jungle setting and their new avatars. The performances, as a whole, may not be revolutionary, but seeing the film welcome this sort of challenge is refreshing and only finds a few problematic areas to deal with.

Keeping strengths in mind, Johnson is perfectly comfortable here. His character is inhabited by the spirit of a nerdy gamer, which lets Johnson play up some of his comedic strengths that feel in line with the fun he had in Central Intelligence. Hart has the mind of a jock that’s two feet taller than him, so you get the manic energy of Hart coming from a perspective that he should be far from the weakest character in the game. Gillan is in the form of a cliché commando woman with the mind of a shy bookworm who was in detention for objecting to P.E., so the film finds just as many ways to subvert what comes from this character type. Lastly, Black gets to have a ball having the mind of a vapid cheerleader.

If there’s an issue, it’s the way the film relishes a bit too much in the comedy of Black having the mind of the opposite gender. Cutting out the dick jokes and literal bathroom humor could easily knock this very family friendly film down to a PG rating, as well as take some minutes off the nearly two-hour runtime. However, this element aside, the cast chemistry is strong and the film continually finds to put them in humorous situations involving their banter and the logic that is fitting for a video game.

While director Jake Kasdan is not the name I’d expect to pop up for a Jumanji sequel/re-imaging (despite having made one of the best music biopics of all time – Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), he and the writers really do a good job exploring the nuts and bolts of a video game. In addition to letting those elements make exposition into a clever joke involving NPCs (non-playable characters, including one portrayed by Rhys Darby) and one-dimensional villains (Bobby Cannavale) feel necessary, there is a fun portrayal of video game logic that throws physics out the window, while still keeping the stakes alive.

One great idea was giving each character a set number of lives. It’s a standard video game conceit, but once established, the film finds all it needs to keep the audience invested in these kids making it out of Jumanji alive, without anything feeling like a random copout. It even leads to some of the film’s best gags, as there’s time to show some of the morbid consequences of certain actions, without tripping into dark territory. And when all is said and done, the use of lives means getting the characters to work as a team and learn some life lessons, which is not a bad thing for a cheesy and unnecessary Jumanji sequel to successfully achieve as a byproduct.

Even regarding visuals, Jumanji does well balancing the Hawaii filming locations with visual effects that are decent enough but could have that quality chalked up to being a part of a video game that also doesn’t sport the most amazing effects. This doesn’t always forgive the movie’s errors (it’s not consistently hilarious, there’s a lot of mugging, and it feels more like a product than a film at times), but at least the movie knows what it’s trying to be.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is not quite on par with the best Chris Van Allsburg game-based-book-turned-movie, the Jon Favreau-directed Zathura: A Space Adventure, but it’s the best film to feature Jumanji in the title. It’s often amusing, clever and enjoyable as far as family movie outings go. And clearly, it had no issue satisfying those concerned with this film serving as another attempt at replicating nostalgia. It was a hit and the fun offered shows why.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: There is a lot to admire in Sony’s presentation for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which is not surprising, given how this movie was a ginormous hit for the studio. Thanks to a production that is full of life, there is a lot to enjoy in the level of detail seen throughout. The jungle environment has a lot going on thanks to the mix of characters, scenery, objects and various action elements constantly taking place. Scenes in the thick of jungle forests have a level of clarity that continually show off the level of commitment in making this look like the characters are stuck in a video game world, not to mention smaller details scene on Johnson’s belt for example (some neat easter eggs there), which really stick out on closer examination.

Depth: Depth of field comes across well in this transfer. The detailed environments help with this plenty. Placing the characters in the jungle means getting plenty of layers that never have the film feeling flat in any instances.

Black Levels: For a bright and fun film, some darkly lit and nighttime scenes do work well to stand strong. Black levels or deep and inky here. Even if the film becomes a bit of an effects mess in the final act, there is never a sign of any crushing going on.

Color Reproduction: The colors really pop. Having characters in the jungle means that’s likely going to be the case, but there is a lot going on overall. You can take every background environment, costume, and more to see just how great the use of color is in a fun film like this. It’s a highly visual film regarding seeing all that Jumanji can throw at the audience, so it works in conveying this bright color palette well.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register properly throughout. No issue in close-ups, as the level of detail is quite strong.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing to report.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics: The lossless soundtrack presented on the disc provides plenty of entertainment. This is a solid track that takes into account all the major audio elements that hit throughout this film. Between the action scenes filled with wild animals and explosions and the more dialogue-focused scenes in the midst of jungle action, there is a lot to take in and it’s great to enjoy on a home theater system.

Low-Frequency Extension: The LFE channel gets a lot to work with, as the animal sounds, in particular, are fantastic to hear on a woofer. Lots of explosions also play a role here, as the room gets a bit of a rumble as things ramp up.

Surround Sound Presentation: The sense of balance is excellent here. As the characters make their way around the jungle, there is a great amount of work done to make sure the various channels are properly utilized. The rear channels, in particular, get a chance to adequately represent the level of atmosphere and other auditory elements that help keep the world feeling busy. The center and front, of course, get plenty to do here as well and the movement around the screen helps make for a fine audio experience.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear. Plenty of good banter to listen in on.

 

Extras:

I expected more. With a film as big as Jumanji, I was hoping there’d be more fun extras to go with the home release. Surprisingly no deleted scenes, as unnecessary as I generally find them to be. Even worse is the lack of a commentary. You have a lot of funny people that worked on this film, and none of them had time to record a commentary track? Odd. Still, there are some decent featurettes to watch.

Features Include:

  • Gag Reel (HD, 2:25) – Curiously no footage of Jack Black cracking up or making others laugh. Mostly a bunch of Kevin Hart losing it.
  • Journey Through the Jungle: The Making of Jumanji (HD, 14:54) – Rhys Darby hosts a fairly entertaining EPK that goes over all aspects of the film in a broad sense. This could have been so much longer.
  • Meet the Players: A Heroic Cast (HD, 7:08) – A brief look at all four main characters in the film.
  • Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts! (HD, 5:47) – A look at some of the major stunt-based sequences in the film.
  • Attack of the Rhinos! (HD, 3:56) – A look at the filming of some of the film’s major action sequences.
  • Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating the Legacy of Jumanji (HD, 4:44) – A feature I obviously wasn’t into, as it put a lot of focus on treating the original film like a classic by discussing how this new take updates it.
  • Music Video (HD, 3:35) – Jack Black and Nick Jonas put on a show.
  • Previews (HD)
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

As I wrote this review, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was still cleaning up at the box office. Sony put out a movie that did well on capitalizing on the potential of this concept. It’s fun, and that’s what counts most. The Blu-ray features and amazing technical presentation, sure to impress those going after superior sound and video. The extras leave a little to be desired. Regardless, there’s a fun film contained within this package, so feel free to enjoy.

 

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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