“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” wins hearts and laughs
Updated: Apr 4, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
“JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Journey Through the Jungle: The Making of ‘Jumanji’”
GET THE popcorn, kick back and get ready for laughs. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a sequel to 1995’s “Jumanji” starring Robin Williams. Loaded with fun, it’s easy to imagine the comedian/dramatist having a ball with this good natured entry.
It only takes Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan (Nebula of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Kevin Hart to fill in for him. “People say it a lot, but in this case it’s absolutely true. The one and only person I wanted for every part is playing each part,” says Director Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence, in “Meet the Players: A Heroic Cast,” one of seven bonus features on Sony’s release. Chemistry and comic timing is perfect; a follow-up is already in the works.
Kasdan steers us through a story about four high school students, who find themselves in detention. They discover the supernatural game, and start to play. But this time, instead of the game charging into the real world, it pulls the kids inside. All transform into the avatars they chose. Geeky, allergy-ridden Spencer (Alex Wolff) becomes Dr. Xander “Smolder” Bravestone (Johnson). The “smolder” talent was Johnson’s idea; it works.
High school belle Bethany (Madison Iseman) transforms into Professor Shelly Oberon (Black). She’s understandably upset: “I look like a living garden gnome!” Introverted high school rebel Martha (Morgan Turner) converts to – shades of Lara Croft! – butt-kickin’ Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan). Massive football jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) drops in size and muscle to become Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Hart). His assets are “cranial assault,” encyclopedic knowledge he lacks at home. He’s also an “expert weapons valet,” with an enormous backpack, and a serious weakness for cake.
All of the unwilling players retain their personality flaws such as free floating anxiety and vanity, while adapting to their new skill sets and learning to work as a team. Messages of self-worth, kindness and trust fall into place without viewers being hit over the head with them. It’s also good to see adult characters such as teachers and parents are treated well; they want to help these kids, not bully them.
Once the gang falls into the game, the goal is to get out. They must locate and restore the Jaguar’s Eye, a giant emerald, stolen by Bravestone’s former partner, Prof. Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Van Pelt – one of many shoutouts to the original film – keeps a buzzard and killer centipede as pets. He also commands a fleet of ogre-like bikers, who charge the avatars at every opportunity.
The kids quickly discover character death can translate into real death. Each one gets three “lives,” and if they use them all, it’s curtains. Spencer, Bethany, Martha and Fridge must follow the rules, interacting with Non Player Characters restricted to a few lines of repetitive instruction, solving clues, and meeting challenges throughout – like getting the best of a black mamba, people-eating hippos, and “alligators with attitude.” Scene specific homage to the "Indiana Jones'" movies are intentional.
The 1080p transfer (2.39:1 ratio) from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment looks exceptional. Then along comes the 2160p/Dolby Vision UHD treatment and – bam! – we are in that jungle with Johnson, Black, Gillan and Hart. Digitally shot by cinematographer Gyula Pados, locations captured in the tropics and waterfalls of Hawaii look spectacularly genuine. It’s not just the lush color and detail, it’s the ever-present depth and bold contrast that catch the eye. Details, like the homage to Williams’ Alan Parrish pop along with other easter eggs.
Complexions are natural showing serious facial detail: pores, lines, sweat, teeth. Cannavale’s Van Pelt always seems surrounded by darkness, and there’s good detail to be found in his backgrounds. Pados works sunlight and night scenes with panache.
There’s a lot of CG here. Some creatures, like the snake, were sculpted in a computer program, then 3D printed and refined; others are green screened in. What’s nice is it all blends in well. There’s a consistent game-art look to these props and creatures balanced with the authenticity of the main characters and most settings.
Another wow! The Blu-ray has a standard DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack; the 4K offers Dolby Atmos with an exciting 7.1 channel default. This is possibly one of the most energetic tracks made beginning with the “Jumanji” drums, forecasting trouble whenever their dynamic bass pounds the room. Like the unwilling players, you’ve got to pay attention. Then there’s the overhead “return” chime, which sounds when a recently deceased player returns from the dead. They drop from the skies, usually onto Kevin Hart. You will instinctively look up whenever it sounds.
Dialogue comes through clearly along with effects – roaring bikes, exploding characters, snapping gators and thundering herds of rhinos. The original, exotic score is by Henry Jackman of the “Kingsman” films and “Kong: Skull Island.”
Game guide Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby) narrates “Journey Through the Jungle: The Making of ‘Jumanji,’” featuring interviews with Kasdan, the actors, and crew. They discuss shooting in Hawaii and Georgia, and the original film.
“Meet the Players: A Heroic Cast” looks at the characters and the actors who played them. “Attack of the Rhinos!” and “Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts” concentrate on specific scenes. “Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating the Legacy of ‘Jumanji’” honors Williams’ film as the sequel takes off. A gag reel and music video, with Jack Black and co-star Nick Jonas (Alex), are there for snickers and grins.
No one expected much when “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was announced. “The moment “Jumanji’ came into my ears, I perked up,” Johnson says in “Celebrating the Legacy.” “I had such a tremendous amount of love and reverence for the original movie … When I first heard we were making [it], the first thought was ‘Don’t do it. Leave it alone.’ Then the other half was like, ‘Okay. Let’s see what you could do.’”
They did good. There are no stumbles here, only new adventure and fun for all ages. Well done, ladies and gents.
- Kay Reynolds