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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Joe Johnston
Cast:
Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Jonathan Hyde, Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt, Bebe Neuwirth, David Alan Grier, Patricia Clarkson
Writing Credits:
Chris Van Allsburg (book), Chris Van Allsburg (screen story), Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor, Jim Strain

Tagline:
An Adventure For Those Who Seek To Find A Way To Leave Their World Behind.

Synopsis:
Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt and Kirsten Dunst star in this phenomenal adaptation of the award-winning children's book! When young Alan Parrish discovers a mysterious board game, he doesn't realize its unimaginable powers until he is magically transported - before the startled eyes of his friend Sarah - into the untamed jungles of Jumanji! There he remains for 26 years until he is freed from the game's spell by two unsuspecting children. Now a grown man, Alan (Robin Williams) reunites with Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) and together with Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce), tries to outwit the game's powerful forces in this imaginative adventure that combines breathtaking special effects with an enchanting mixture of comedy, magic and thrills.

Box Office:
Budget
$65 million.
Domestic Gross
$100.200 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $27.95
Release Date: 1/25/2000

Bonus:
• "Making of" Documentary
• Audio Commentary with the Special Effects Crew
• Special Effects Featurette
• Production Design Featurette
• Isolated Music score
• Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons
• Conceptual Art Gallery
• Production Stills
• Theatrical Trailer


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Jumanji: Collector's Edition (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 26, 2006)

Given his frequent choice of smug, annoying films like Patch Adams, 1995's Jumanji offered perhaps the rarest kind of Robin Williams performance: fairly serious but not holier-than-thou. Well, "serious" may be an incorrect term for Williams' turn in Jumanji because it's not a somber film. It's largely an action-adventure film, the first in which he'd appeared since 1991's Hook. While the movie definitely features a lot of comic moments, I think the emphasis is on the action elements and Williams' traditional mania seems largely reigned in during the film.

Despite that, I found myself rather impressed with his performance. He manages a lot of little moments in his portrayal of Alan Parrish, a twelve-year-old boy who was locked in a fantasy game universe for 26 years. Although Alan's now a man, Williams maintains a lot of the boy in him, which makes sense since Alan supposedly spent 26 years on his own in the jungle. He definitely wouldn't have had a very normal course of development.

The boy who plays Alan at twelve (Adam Hann-Byrd) doesn't look much like Williams, but it's uncanny the way Williams adopts the mannerisms and expressions of the younger actor to actually develop a resemblance. It's clear he put a lot of work into maintaining this relationship and it works very well, as I really believed Williams could be the older Alan. Williams gets in some funny lines, but it's nice to see him avoid the wired energy he usually displays in comic parts. While entertaining, that sort of performance would have been inappropriate for the role. It's not a great part, but Williams does a nice job with it.

Really, Jumanji is a much better performed film than one would expect of such an effects-intensive fantasy. I'm completely in the bag for Bonnie Hunt, who plays the adult version of Sarah, the girl with whom Alan was playing the titular game when he got sucked into the jungle. Hunt's one of the more witty and intelligent performers around, and she imbues Sarah with an appropriate level of neurosis - hey, seeing a kid swallowed by a board game can mess with your mind! - but makes the character likable and warm.

Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce are just fine as the "modern day" kids who find the game so long after the negative events of Alan and Sarah's childhoods. Neither really stands out but they definitely hold their own. Bebe Neuwirth and David Alan Grier also offer affable performances in supporting roles.

One notable aspect of Jumanji refers to its ending. I won't spill the beans, but rest assured things wind up happily. (If that ruins it for you, you need to get out more.) Actually, things wind up in a manner that easily could/should have been completely cloying and saccharine sweet, but you know what? I bought it. Director Joe Johnston seems good at handling sentimental moments that could come across as unpleasantly artificial in other hands, and Jumanji works along those lines. Emotional moments are handled tastefully and not given overemphasis to tweak a particular response from the audience.

Ironically, the weakest link in the Jumanji chain is its special effects. This was a big-budget deal that went for what should have been state of the art in 1995, but the effects almost always seem fake and unbelievable. This isn't just the hindsight of 10 years speaking; I felt that way when I saw the movie theatrically as well.

What's wrong with the effects? Partly it's what I feel to be a bad production decision. Most of the effects depict the various animals - lions, monkeys, pelicans, rhinos, etc. - that spew from the game and the filmmakers went for a stylized depiction of these creatures rather than make them "photorealistic." Apparently this move was motivated to make the images more in line with a "child's imagination."

That's all well and good but it doesn't work. The animals look realistic enough to create the impression they're supposed be duplicate the actual creatures, but they go far enough toward the stylistic that they look distinctly artificial. At no point do the animals even remotely appear to be alive and real.

Stylistic decisions aside, I felt the effects simply don't seem very well-integrated with the film's universe. I was always acutely conscious of the fact these were effects and never was able to suspend my disbelief. That's unusual for me; I grew up on effects films and it's not difficult at all for me to ignore many flaws if I'm into the film. I enjoyed Jumanji and should have been able to get past the problems with the images, but I just couldn't do it.

Nonetheless, Jumanji is a good movie that ultimately overcomes those issues. Is it a classic? Not even remotely close, but I found it to be an enjoyable little comic action/fantasy picture that provides solid entertainment for all ages, as they say.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Jumaji appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Most of the transfer looked positive, as only a few issues cropped up to cause distractions.

None of the problems related to sharpness, which was one of the movie’s stronger elements. Nary a hint of softness crept into the image. It always left a tight and well-defined impression. I noticed no problems with jagged edges or moiré effects, but mild edge enhancement was visible at times.

Source flaws never became major, but they existed. Occasional examples of specks and grit popped up through the movie. I also noticed a few small streaks, and the film could be a little grainy. It remained acceptably clean the majority of the time, though.

Colors could be a little subdued but they came across nicely within the film’s palette. The tones seemed full and rich, with good accuracy. Blacks were deep and firm, but I sometimes found the image to appear overly dark, which I think was a result of the original production design. Actually, I believe the filmmakers kept things shadowy to hide the flaws of the computer imagery as much as possible; the brighter the setting, the more obvious the fakery.

Unfortunately, this didn't work very well, since the CGI still looked poor, and the remainder of the movie appeared too dark. Shadow detail wasn't bad but suffered from this overall issue; dimly lit scenes often were a little hard to watch. While clearly not a flawless picture, Jumanji still looked solid for the most part, and it occasionally presented terrific visuals.

I also liked the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The only real issue I took with this mix concerned its soundfield. While effective, I felt it seemed too heavily biased toward the front speakers and that the mix didn't take advantage of some good opportunities for solid surround sound. For example, the scene were the giant mosquitoes entered kept them almost entirely in the front; they could have really buzzed around the room and made the segment even more exciting.

Still, the track did present a reasonably good soundstage. Audio was balanced well between channels and lacked an overly speaker-specific presentation. Quality usually seemed positive. I noticed occasional edginess to dialogue, particularly when spoken by Alan's father. The remainder of the audio appeared free from distortion, and speech always was easily intelligible.

Effects and music were well reproduced most of the time. Word of warning: this was a loud mix, so don't be surprised if your neighbors call the cops on you! It really shook things up, especially from the very strong bass response.

Actually, I thought the effects poured on a little too much low-end, as those aspects could become overwhelming. For instance, the first scenes with the lion came across as excessively boomy. Otherwise, this added punch to the many effects scenes, and the drums that are the game's calling card seemed wonderfully deep and ominous. While I'd prefer a little more ambition in regard to this track's surround usage, it's still a good mix that you should find quite satisfying, though your neighbors may not agree.

Since this reissue is regarded as a special edition, Columbia added a nice complement of supplements. First up is a running audio commentary from a wide variety of personnel who worked on the film's special effects. We hear from special effects supervisor Ken Ralston, special makeup designers/animatronic effects developers Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, computer imagery supervisor Karl Frederick, monkey sequence supervisor Doug Smythe, computer graphics supervisor Ellen Coon and computer graphics artist Jim Mitchell. It sounded like only Woodruff and Gillis appear together; I think everyone else was recorded separately and this commentary results from an edited compilation of those interviews.

Based on that lineup, you won’t be surprised to learn that various nuts and bolts aspects of filmmaking dominate this track. We get many comments about computer generated imagery but also learn a fair amount about animatronics, practical effects, and various other kinds of movie magic.

Obviously this means that if you’re not interested in that information, you won’t want to listen to the track. If you do want to learn more about effects, though, this is a good piece. It can become a little technical and dry at times, but not nearly as frequently as I’d expect. Indeed, it usually proves to be lively and engaging. In addition to the raw data, we get nice insights such as how the actors work with the elements and who does it best in Hollywood. Many of the participants have worked on other notable shows, and they occasionally reflect on those. This commentary ends up as surprisingly enjoyable.

In addition to the commentary, another alternate audio feature exists: we get an isolated score with James Horner's music on it. I'm not a big fan of movie scores but I think this is a very nice touch and will be valuable for those of you who do care for them.

This Jumanji DVD offers three separate behind the scenes programs. First we get Making Jumanji - The Realm of Imagination. This 20-minute documentary covers some general aspects of the film's creation. We see movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. The latter include remarks from Woodruff, Gillis, director Joe Johnston, producer Scott Kroopf, production designer James Bissell, ILM’s Mark Miller, and actors Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, David Alan Grier, and Bradley Pierce. We find a basic overview of the story and characters, effects issues, the atmosphere during the shoot, set design and related topics, and how the actors dealt with the various complications.

“Realm” definitely falls into the category of "studio promotional puff-piece" but it seems enjoyable and moderately informative nonetheless. We get some fun cracks with Hunt and Williams plus a lot of good footage from the set. It ain't a thorough documentary, but it's interesting and informative.

Next up is a special effects featurette called Lions and Monkeys and Pods... Oh My! This 14-minute and 32-second program focuses on the same issues discussed in the commentary, except now we get visuals as well and we're treated to a lot of behind the scenes footage that illustrates the creation of the visuals. We get more notes from Miller, Woodruff, maquette sculptor Richard Miller, and CG supervisors Carl Frederick and Doug Smythe. It's a lot of fun, mainly due to all the clips of how they created the effects.

The final featurette sticks to production design. It's called Bringing Down the House and spends three minutes and four seconds with production designer Jim Bissell as he runs through issues about the house where much of the action in Jumanji takes place. It's brief but useful.

Storyboards can be found in that section. We see boards for three scenes: "Bats" (one minute, 31 seconds), "Rhino Stampede" (1:12), and "Earthquake" (0:54). I think these work well. We see the boards themselves, which dominate the TV screen, with a small inset of the actual scene in the lower right corner. This is about the best board-to-film comparison technique I've seen and it makes the presentation work nicely.

A slew of still frame materials also appear on the Jumanji DVD in the Photo Galleries section. This is divided into two subheadings: "Conceptual Art" and "Production Stills". The former contains 39 stills, while the latter offers 91. I'm not a huge fan of production illustrations, but these are pretty good and are presented efficiently. A number of additional sub-areas appear that make finding the stills you want very manageable.

Jumanji also packs some traditional DVD components. The film's theatrical trailer and its teaser appear, as do previews for Mathilda and Madeline. Talent Files for five of the actors and director Johnston can be found. These border on uselessness due to their lack of detail, but they provide extremely basic information. Finally, the DVD's booklet adds two text pages of decent production notes.

Ultimately the special edition of Jumanji is a winner. It's not a great film, but it's fun, well made and it holds up nicely to repeated viewings. The DVD offers good picture and audio along with a reasonably satisfying collection of extras. It’d make for a good addition to your collection.

To rate this film visit the Deluxe Edition review of JUMANJI