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Jumanji (4K + Blu-ray, Best Buy Exclusive Steelbook)

Sony Pictures // PG // December 5, 2017 // Region 0
List Price: $30.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 4, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Most of the early- to mid-‘90s films heavy in computer-generated imagery that have withstood the test of time do so because they grasped the technology's limitations and applied a little foresight to their execution, concentrating on photorealistic recreation of animals and the landscapes around them. Industrial Light and Magic stands behind most of the enduring CG successes of the area, not only elevating the works of James Cameron and Steven Spielberg but making them possible in the first place. This illusion doesn't hold up for the lion's share of imagery from the era, though, and it can have a significant impact on the quality of the entire film, distracting from otherwise reputable craftsmanship, pacing, and performance value. Over the years, Jumanji slowly transformed into one of those rare outings for ILM whose digital creations haven't withstood the test of time, cursed with the unfortunate distinction of being an exciting, charming adventure that's only held back by the aged visual effects required to bring it to life.

Adapting from the children's book illustrated and written by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji tells the story of a boardgame that manipulates reality, a tale that begins in the late-‘60s. Alan Parrish, the young heir to a shoemaking business who has problems with being bullied, discovers an old boardgame buried near his father's factory. That evening, Alan invites his friend Sara Whittle to play the jungle-themed adventure game, which moves pieces by itself following every dice roll … and with each turn, something described as happening in the game would manifest in real life, eventually leading to the disappearance of Alan. Several decades later, children Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) rediscover the game, unknowingly picking up where Alan and Sarah had left off. After their own rolls of the dice and encounters with real-life threats from the jungle, they soon encounter a middle-aged Alan Parrish (Robin Williams), who reluctantly agrees to help Judy and Peter finish out the game, which will reverse whatever damage has been done.

It'd be near impossible to create a live-action version of Jumanji without abundant digital imagery, since every roll of the dice ends up releasing predator cats, crocodiles, even a stampede of various animals from the jungles and savannahs of a distant wilderness. To say that it's integral to the film's success would be an understatement. Industrial Light and Magic brings some of their success with Jurassic Park to these beasts, but the renderings work only when they're in large packs and camouflage one another, hurriedly stampeding through environments so the viewer's eyes can't stop on ‘em. Solitary animals are another story, especially those created with something resembling personality, from a snarling lion that gets comfortable in the setting's focal mansion (a fusion of puppetry and digital rendering) to a pack of wild-eyed, mischievous monkeys that ransack any space they enter. They have cartoonish tweaks to their appearance that deliberately avoid realism, and in a post-Narnia and post-Planet of the Apes era, their iffy integration into the locations makes for stiff visual effects that sporadically break one's immersion in the fantastical premise.

For years, it was easier to look through those digital effects and appreciate what Jumanji accomplishes underneath because of its timeless, self-aware craftsmanship in every other facet, centered on the escalating mood that mixes anxiety over what's coming out of the game next and eagerness to rush into each encounter. Honey I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer director Joe Johnston understands the importance of emphasizing character traits when they're surrounded by visual pandemonium, which he successfully accomplishes here in both the vintage and modern eras. Robin Williams channels the mostly serious side of his dramatic persona into Alan Parrish, capturing the attitude of a late-30s or early-40s adult with unawareness of the modern world and haunted, "grown-up" cynicism due to his survivalist isolation. He proves to be a unique blend of authority figure and mental equivalent to Judy and Peter, whose traumatic experiences involving their parents' death have left them as a well-drawn duo of compulsive liar and near-mute introvert. And Bonnie Hunt's a uniquely charming sort of comedic relief as an older Sarah Whittle.

Now, with over twenty years of advancement in Hollywood making wonky CG look wonkier in comparison, Jumanji must survive on the quality of its storytelling and suspense … which, for the most part, it continues to do so. The game's promise to undo any damage that's done after someone reaches the end affords it freedom to throw locations and characters into legitimate peril, filled with sentient plants, heavy rainfall, permanent transformations, and other traps that materialize as the game sees fit. The exotic fusion of environment special effects -- a blend of computer-generated and practical elements -- typically still function as a convincing and exhilarating atmosphere of danger, even if there are a handful of occurrences involving decades-old ripple distortions and particle dissolves that don't fare well against modern scrutiny. Once the drums start pounding, the wood dice clank on the board, and the green text forms in the center jewel, the mystical essence of the game itself takes over and refuses to let dated elements drown out the fun of the adventure.

The 4K Blu-ray:

Jumanji arrives in a fairly standard black-case 4K UltraHD presentation from Sony Home Entertainment, but an exclusive Steelbook made its way to Best Buy late last year, and the design of this one is too good to pass up. Raised and debossed elements add depth to the front design, which largely mirrors the engravings found on the front lid of the Jumanji box from the game. That in itself is rather snazzy, but it gets even cooler after opening the steel packaging up, revealing that the interior artwork looks like … you guessed it, the interior of the opened game itself. It's a gorgeous design that'll satisfy fans of the film, though the blandness of the disc artwork -- black on top for 4K, blue on top for the included standard Blu-ray -- leaves something to be desired against the ornate beauty of this exclusive. A Digital Copy slip has also been included.

Video and Audio:

The original Blu-ray of Jumanji wasn't a completely unsatisfying affair, but there was a dimness to the image and a bulky, processed presence to fine details suggesting that something better could be squeezed out of the mid-‘90s cinematography. Lo and behold, alongside the theatrical release of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, this adaptation has received a 4K remastering that blows the original transfer out of the water, both the standard Blu-ray presentation and the exceptional 1.85:1-framed, 2160p 4K transfer viewed here. Everything kissed with light gets a much-needed boost in natural brightness, elevating the greens of foliage, the tans of animal fur, and the bricks of buildings throughout. There's also far more natural warmth applied to those scenes, yielding impressive wood colors and, most noticeably, skin tones. Underneath a healthy and well-represented veil of film grain, the film's fine details receive a monumentally satisfying boost: wood grain and textiles, strands of hair and fur, water ripples and contours of guns are exceedingly sharp, especially the weathered details of the boardgame. Lighting still intentionally leans slightly darker in many spots, but details in shadows -- in an attic, at a gun shop, with the mansion overgrown with new foliage -- remain discernible, and the generally warm presence of the photography remains as well. Jumanji looks tremendous.

It sounds tremendous, too, and there's no shortage of elements for the Dolby ATMOS track to consistently flex the muscles of a capable home-theater. Stampedes of animals, thunder and heavy rainfall, car crashes, hefty gunshots, and the actual splintering apart of a large building telegraph room-filling sound effects that handily engage both lower-end bass and high-end clarity. Sounds of dice clanking against an aged wooden board, the ripping of fabric, and the opening and closing of doors engage the subtleties of the track, hitting organic midrange clarity and higher-up nuance. Dialogue has a firm, surround-aware presence to it throughout, sticking to the center channel yet well supported by applicable expansion across the front channels. Activity comes pouring out of all channels throughout, though, both surround elements and the energized scoring in a divine representation of object-based sound delights, locking in the chaotic environment created by the game. The visuals are a satisfying improvement, but this ATMOS track is the demo-worthy star of the show. The ATMOS track is also Dolby TrueHD compatible for non-4K receivers, and a slew of other audio options are also available, as well as optional English subs.

Special Features:

As with most other 4K discs, the extra materials are relegated to the included standard Blu-ray presentation of Jumanji; the only thing resembling a "special feature" on the 4K presentation is a six-panel Cast and Crew slideshow. Moreover, the slate of extras available here mirror those found on the past presentations of the film, notably the 20th Anniversary Edition released just two years prior and covered on DVDTalk by William Harrison (click here for his review). The one new addition is precisely what you'd expect with a timed re-release of the film with a sequel/reboot: a Sneak Peek at Welcome to the Jungle (3:14, 16x9 HD), featuring interviews with the star-studded cast alongside clips from the film, most of which can be found in trailers. The rest of the special features included, a collection of vintage featurettes and a few newer goodies, are listed below:
  • Special Effects Crew Commentary (Standard Blu-ray Only)
  • Gag Reel (5:19 16x9)
  • Deleted Scenes (1:42, 16x9)
  • Making of Jumanji: The Realm of Imagination (20:03, 4x3)
  • Jumanji Motion Storybook w/ Chris Van Allsburg(8:59, 16x9)
  • SFX Featurette: Lions, Monkeys, and Pods … Oh My! (14:33, 4x3)
  • Bringing Down the House (3:10, 4x3)
  • Two Episodes of Jumanji: The Animated Series (45:20, 4x3)
  • Storyboard Comparisons (3:44, 4x3)
  • Production Stills and Conceptual Art
  • The Extreme Book of Nature (5:49, 16x9) and Ancient Diversions (14:22, 16x9)
  • International Trailer (:32, 16x9)
  • "Are You Game" Trailer (2:46, 16x9)
  • "It's a Jungle Out There" Trailer (1:45, 16x9)

Final Thoughts:

Despite the distractingly vintage computer-generated effects that play an integral role in the authentic presence of the film, Jumanji possesses a timeless sort of craftsmanship within its suspense, magical properties, and humor that continues to hold up as the years go by. While that becomes even more difficult as the CG work grows more dated, the strengths of the bravely perilous storytelling and the responsive performance value -- surrounded by largely absorbing production design in the changing environments -- ultimately win out over those issues. A terrific mostly-dramatic performance by the late Robin Williams sells the illusion as the time displaced Alan Parrish, while the rest of the cast enhances the thrills that come spilling out of the boardgame every step of the way. Just two years after their 20th Anniversary Edition release, Sony Home Entertainment have taken the opportunity to give Jumanji a 4K makeover to coincide with the release of the sequel/reboot Welcome to the Jungle, and the improvements in audiovisual quality are worth taking another turn with this release. Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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