Lucien’s Retro Review: Jumanji

JumanjiFor those who didn’t know, the years 1983-1995 were awesome years for movies when you were a kid.  They were also the years when people like Robin Williams was at the top of his game.  The early-mid 90s were awesome for this man.  In my opinion, they were the years when he was at the top of his game.  The day that he passed was a sad day indeed, especially given how his acting career had taken something of a nose-dive in the early late 90’s.  For whatever reason, he just kept being in terrible movies.  When I think of the films that Robin Williams was at his best in, one of the first the comes to mind is this movie.  One of the most exciting and eerie kids movies ever made – Jumanji.  A film about a board game that can REALLY mess up your day.

The great thing about this movie is how it comes right out of the gate building suspense.  The best things about the first act are how this movie keeps building and building as you go along.  You have two boys looking to bury a box with an unknown piece of cargo.  You don’t know what exactly it is, but you know that they are terrified of it, and eager to be rid of it.  The mystery of this strange box is made all the more potent when the drums start playing.  The sound clearly is meant to be something to fear, and this movie makes sure you understand that.  Fast-forward 100 years later, and a boy named Alan finds the game.  Him and his lady-friend decide to play, which ends in him being sucked into the game, and the girl fleeing in terror.  Fast-forward again 26 years later and you have the house the family owned being bought by someone else. It’s a woman who is caring for her late brother’s two children.  The drums come back again as the game calls out to the children to play.  Now, the children are forced to finish a game started almost 26 years ago, and there are more than a few surprises.

What to talk about first.  Let me just say that I love this films use of minimal effects to get tension across.  The way that you know to fear the game is due to the sound of the drums.  This movie establishes that sound as threatening the moment you hear it.  That’s awesome!  Then you have the way that you know what new threat is coming – by looking at the center of the game.  The way that the text is displayed, with that eerie music that always gets played with it.  That is brilliant!

Then there’s the effects.  Now, the CG in this film is REALLY dated.  However, this film treats it like it knows that,  It knows that the CG doesn’t look great.  But they have a nice way of getting around that – by having a lot of practical effects integrated!  If only modern movies could remember that.  It goes a lot further than you think.  Some of the practical effects are just awesome.  And some of them are downright creepy.  The spider scene still freaks me out.  When the effects are silly, they are REALLY silly.  But the practical stuff is beyond impressive.  At the time this movie came out, CG was still very new.  So most directors were mixing practical effects at the time, and it helps in a big way.

But the thing that stands out the most are the characters.  There was no reason that this movie should have been anything other than stupid.  It was made based on a very short book that had some amazing illustrations. In fact, a lot of the designs of the animals kept to that.  Though this film took it up more than a few notches.  For something that had this amount of simplicity, it is beyond me how they ended up telling a rather engaging story about a board game and the people who played it.  You have all these characters, and the town itself has some character.  After he was sucked into the game, Alan’s father ended up falling apart.  The shoe factory, which was the town’s chief industry, died out.  Now the town died out with it.  This movie tells a rather grim and slightly depressing story about how a town died, and these people playing the game.  There was also a lot of quiet time in this movie.  Man, it’s so weird watching films like this now, when I think of how loud and unending the loudness is in movies nowadays.

Naturally, Robin Williams stole the show here.  I’m so glad that the director of this movie knew that the best way to have Williams in a film is to let him breathe a little.  Longer shots that gave not only some time to develop atmosphere, but let Williams show his stuff.  But the rest of the cast ain’t too bad.  Kirsten Dunst plays the older of the two kids, Judy.  Some of her endless lies are pretty fun to listen to.  The younger brother is a little coward, but he still gets some time to shine.  Then there was Alan’s friend Sarah, who is all grown up being forced to play the game again.  Every role in this movie had character.  Again, so odd, considering that this movie could have so easily been total garbage.

Which is really the best point to make about this movie.  The idea is vaguely interesting.  A magical board game that can make a jungle come to life.  But thanks to some great acting and cool effects, this turned into a movie that was about interesting characters and the insanity that comes from this demented game.  So remember, whenever you hear tribal drums in the middle of nowhere, that’s probably a good sign to run.  Unless you’re insane like me and want to see what kind of mischief you could get up to in this game.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

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