Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, David Alan Grier, Bonnie Hunt
Extras: Commentary track, Isolated score, Featurettes, Gallery and Trailers...
In April 1997, just shortly after DVD had first been released into the marketplace, Columbia TriStar released a great-looking version of “Jumanji” for the fledgling format. Now, almost three years later, the studio revisits the movie and gives it a full special edition treatment with a commentary track and a number of interesting supplements that mostly highlight the technical aspects of this effect’s laden movie.
Young Alan Parrish discovers a strange board game in the mud at a construction site unaware that someone had buried it there 100 years ago to make sure no one would ever find it. He doesn’t know about the magical powers the game possesses and on night he starts playing the game, “Jumanji” with his friend Sarah. Before they know it, the events from the game become real and the house is filled with vicious bats, while Alan is sucked into a different dimension – the world of Jumanji, only to be released if another player will roll the dice and throw a 5 or 8.
Years pass and Alan was never to be seen again, until one day, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) discover the game in the old Parrish house where they just moved in. They too begin playing the mystical game and trigger events beyond their control and rationale, but without knowing it, not only did they set free the untamed flora and fauna of the jungle, but they also liberated Alan Parrish from his curse after 26 years.
The only way to revert all the events that now begin to destroy their home and the entire city, they must finish the game but Parrish (Robin Williams) refuses. Soon however they all find out that he will have to play, as will Sarah, the girl he originally started the game with some 26 years ago. As Hell breaks loose around them they try to track down Sarah and finish the game before its powerful forces distort the world as we know it.
While I do enjoy “Jumanji” for its face value, I think the film suffers from its own ambitiousness. At the time, the filmmakers tried very hard to push the technological envelope, creating a blend of practical effects and computer generated images that had never been attempted that way before. Sadly, they failed and most of the film’s effects do not manage to fool the eye of even the most unsophisticated viewer. A full computer generated lion with long fur was one of the challenges. Traditionally, hair is one of the most problematic areas of computer generated imagery and as a result the lion we get to see in “Jumanji” resembles more a stuffed animal than a live lion or any stylized version of it. The same is true for the flock of monkeys that raids the town. While the hair problems apply here just as much, I found mostly the animation unconvincing with the animals either moving in slow-motion or so fast that they’re impossible to track visually.
Although “Jumanji” may be unconvincing in the special effects department, it was nonetheless an important movie as it made all these deficiencies so visible. It gave digital artists around the world a chance to improve on the mistakes made here, and ultimately they have succeeded. Nowadays they are able to give us fully convincing computer generated images of practically anything.
Despite its technical flaws, “Jumanji” also has a lot to offer. The story is well thought up and every time the dice are rolled you start to wonder, what surprise may be next. This element of unpredictability drives the entire movie forward. At the same time the film contains quite a bit of humor. This light-heartedness, combined with the lurking threat that comes from the game, create a furiously entertaining spectacle that makes for great family entertainment.
Columbia TriStar Home Video’s special edition of “Jumanji” features a widescreen transfer of the movie in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The transfer is enhanced for 16×9 television sets and highly detailed as a result of the increased resolution. Every bit of detail is well maintained and nicely reproduced on this DVD presentation. Color delineation is flawless, rendering the movie absolutely faithfully. Fleshtones look natural under all circumstances, and the hues and shades of the colorful production are nicely reproduced. Compression artifacts are not existent, giving the movie a very good look that captures the entire magic of the movie without any distraction.
“Jumanji” also features a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio track. As expected it is aggressive at times and boasts a wide frequency response with good bass extension. The rumbling of the stampede will fill and shape your living room every time you see the hordes of wild animals run through the screen. Directional effects have also bee nicely integrated in the mix creating an expansive mix through the entire presentation. Dialogues are carefully placed and mixed so they are always understandable and never drowned out by the sound effects or the music.
James Horner has contributed the music score to “Jumanji” and it is often as untamed as the jungle of Jumanji. Making great use of tribal themes and his brass section to create tension and dynamics, he also often reverts to softer instrumentation when the story demands it. Taken altogether, the score is a perfect embellishment for the movie, not only bringing out the best of the pictures, but at the same time expanding the impact by adding the viewer’s own mental images and associations to the film through the music alone. Much of its impact can be best appreciated when watching the movie and listening to the isolated score that is part of this release. Also presented in 5.1 channel Dolby Digital it is a perfect way to see how composers can make sure viewers are literally pulled into a movie through a great score and an engulfing mix.
Apart from the isolated score, “Jumanji” also features a commentary track by the film’s supervisor of the visual effects, Ken Ralston, who will also be directing “Jumanji 2” as he reveals in the commentary. Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis are also on the track, who was responsible for many of the practical effects in the film as well as the make-up effects. After some time of exposition and explaining their work in general, they nicely dissect the entire movie and explain in detail how things were done. The entire commentary is very interesting and every fan of special effects should give this a thorough check-up. There is a lot of valuable information in this commentary.
The release also contains a number of featurettes. First there is a 20-minute “Making Of” documentary called “The Realm Of Imagination”. It features behind-the-scenes footage as well as interviews with cast and crew. It is mostly un-technical in nature and appears to be one of the televised featurettes that are aired to promote the movie during its theatrical run.
The second one is a special effects featurette that mostly focuses on the creation of the computer generated shots. It shows how much heart and soul was put into the creation of these effects despite the fact that many of them didn’t come out as good as everyone had certainly hoped they would. This 15-minute featurette takes you directly into the workshops and studios of the people who created them.
“Bringing Down The house” is a 3-minute production design featurette that focuses on the transformation the house is going through, carefully explaining production design decisions and the effects that were used to make it happen.
As another supplement, the disc contains a storyboard-to-movie comparison where you can see the storyboards that were created early in the production with the end result in the final movie, that is shown in a small window at the bottom of the screen. The bat scene, the Rhino stampede and the earthquake scene are presented here for viewers to explore. I always find it interesting how some things are implemented in the final film, just as they were planned, and how filmmaker slightly deviate from their initial plans for bigger impact and to enhance the dramaturgy.
Columbia has also added a large photo gallery on this release, ranging from conceptual art to production photographs. Here you can take a look at alternative title designs, a procedure that can be very lengthy and tedious as I recall from my own experience. This gallery gives a nice feel for the fact that the lettering for a production is not something that happens accidentally, but usually an elaborate process. But also creature designs and production design sketches are part of this gallery, as well as behind-the-scenes pictures for the creatures, the production design and from the movie itself. All these images give a great sense of scope to the DVD, showing very nicely what a major undertaking such a movie actually is considering that the result is lasting for only about 100 minutes.
To round up these incredible supplements, Columbia has also supplied talent files for the cast and crew, as well as two trailers that were used to promote the movie.
Although “Jumanji” might fall short on a few ends, it is nonetheless a highly entertaining movie for the entire family. The story is intriguing, the cast is great and the furious ace of the film makes for great popcorn entertainment. Given the furious pace of the movie and the never-ending string of surprises and twists in the plot, it will capture you from the first minute to the last. This special edition Columbia TriStar has prepared for this movie is once again formidable. Often overlooked, Columbia TriStar is truly one of the most consistent studios that combines very high production values on their DVDs with interesting and meaningful content. Considering how many releases Columbia is wrangling every month, this is a major achievement. If you are a fan of special effects and want to learn ore about them, or if you are looking for a great movie for the entire family, or even if you’re just out to find a disc that shows off the best DVD has to offer, “Jumanji” is clearly a contender you should not miss.