A film about some kids playing a board game may not sound all that fascinating, but when you toss Robin Williams into the mix things get a little interesting. Jumanji, which originally came out in 1995, was the theatrical adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg children's book of the same name. The movie, much like the book, offered a ruckus adventure filled with "magic" and "danger" that proved to be darker and more sentimental than the usual kid flick.
The whole idea behind the film centers around a magical board game called, well, Jumanji. Throughout history the mystical African game has wreaked havoc on unsuspecting children who have mistakenly rolled the die. Depending where the player lands and what number they roll, several different possibilities can happen. Usually it means a fierce creature will materialize, but sometimes weather and geological events come about. At one point in time, a young boy named Alan Parrish was even sucked into the game and vanished from the real world.
Alan is really the character that the movie is about, which becomes evident from the very first moment we see him in 1969. His father owns a shoe factory and is very wealthy with a lot of influence in town, which unfortunately leaves Alan at the mercy of bullies. One day though, after taking a beating, he hears some tribal drums in the distance and follows the sound to a construction site. There he discovers the dreaded board game and decides to take it home. Later that night when his parents leave a friend of his, Sarah Whittle, stops by and the two start playing Jumanji. After a couple of rounds Alan roles rather unsavorily and is swallowed up by the game; an even that leaves Sarah in therapy for the next 26 years.
Because of Alan's disappearance, his parents spent every last dime they had looking for him and eventually exhausted their fortune. Their home got run down and eventually sold to Nora Shepherd (Bebe Neuwirth) who has been taking care of her brother's children Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) since he passed away. The kids eventually hear the sound of tribal drums just like Alan did and find their way to the dreadful board game. They start playing and eventually unleash a few critters like giant mosquitoes and a man-eating lion. They also inadvertently release Alan, who is now an adult that is played by Robin Williams.
In order to undo the devastation that the game created, everyone that was involved with the game must play and finish it. That means the trio has to find Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt) and see the adventure through to the end. The movie proves to be high on adventure, morals and interesting concepts, but it will be most appreciated by younger audiences.
If Jumanji has a fault, it would be that it is very formulaic since it essentially is broken up into turns taken by the mystical game's players. One player rolls the die, something scary and unexpected happens, the players have to run, and then the die get passed to the next person in line. Fortunately the movie doesn't forget about what has previously transpired (most of the time) and creatures from prior turns pop up now and again, like the monkeys.
Oh, and speaking of the creatures that pop out of the game, they look pretty bad. I don't know if the special effects were trying to pull off a "board game" style or not, but considering the advent of computer generated effects were two years beyond the likes of Jurassic Park, one would have hoped things looked better. The monkeys in particular are laughable to behold, though in their defense some of their mischief is pretty funny.
Jumanji comes with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that offers some pretty nice image quality. From everything I can discern, the Deluxe Edition is basically identical to the prior editions in terms of visual prowess. The image is clean for the most part with some fine sharpness, color contrast and detail. There are a few moments where some slight grain is visible as well as some speckle appears at a couple of points. Having two discs to spread out the data stored on the DVD may have helped some things along here, but if you're looking for a far superior upgrade to your prior edition, you're going to be left out in the dark. Even so, the quality is very good compared to other releases from the same time period this film was produced.
With a Dolby Digital 5.1, Jumanji will put your system to the test at times. It makes wonderful use of directionality and bass to emphasize the calamity that comes from the game. The dialogue can sometimes be overwhelmed by the multitude of sound effects, what with all of the stampedes and screaming monkeys and all, but it comes across clear and clean. French, Spanish and Portuguese 2.0 stereo tracks are available as well as some optional subtitles for each of the spoken languages on the disc.
Sadly enough, Jumanji: Deluxe Edition regurgitates the special features that were found on the prior release of the film. That means that chances are good you will not have to do a double dip if you own the last edition.
The special features are broken up between the first disc and the second. The initial disc of this version includes an audio commentary with the special effects crew for the movie. I found it to be more informative and interesting than your average commentary with FX team members. Whereas most commentaries focus entirely on actors of directors discussing what it was "like" working on a film, it's great to hear someone talk about "how" the movie was made. Well, at least the look of it anyway.
The first disc also includes a Trivia game for the kiddies as well as "The Extreme Book of Nature", which tosses some movie clips your way with tidbits of information about the various animals making their home in Jumanji. "Ancient Diversions" is a rather random inclusion that teaches some lame "magic" tricks, which apparently are too scary or inappropriate for kids under eight.
On the second disc there are some storyboard to film comparisons for the bat, rhino and earthquake scenes, as well as some photo galleries with conceptual art and production stills. There are also three documentaries that were included on the last release of the film. "Making Jumanji: The Realm of Imagination" is a twenty minute fluff piece with some behind the scene shots and some interviews. It's not very informative, but there are a few laughs to be had thanks to some of the material.
There is a featurette called "Lions, Monkeys and Pods…Oh My!" that takes you through some of the steps at creating some of the visual effects. There is more information on this subject to be found in the commentary, but it's always good to put a picture with the voice and subject. Last but not least is "Bringing Down the House" which involves, well, the house. You'll get a look at everything from illustration to creation and even destruction of the Parrish House.
Overall, Jumanji withstands the test of time and is every bit as entertaining in 2005 as it was ten years ago. It may be geared more towards children than adults, but I think there's enough offered here for the whole family. The DVD grade for this version is pretty high with some nice video and audio presentation, as well as some bonus material (even though it's mostly repeats). Chances are good that if you liked the movie you may already own one of the two prior editions. This newer Deluxe Edition offers may not really be different enough to warrant an upgrade of versions, but if by chance you are buying the movie for the first time, you can't go wrong here. Recommended