Jumanji! I loved the first movie, which came out in 1995, and not just because it starred Robin Williams. It was new and fresh, the acting was excellent, and it was a lot of fun. They did a beautiful job of bringing the fantasy forest into the real world, without making it seem ridiculous. In a way, it seemed to play at the fringes of live action role playing, or LARP.
I’ll admit, it was pretty skeptical about the second movie. I feared that they would attempt to do a remake of the original, just as so many movies are remade these days. Some movies should be left alone, and I felt that Jumanji was among them. But the cast was stellar in my opinion, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, and Karen Gillian, a former Dr. Who companion, are among my favorites. So I went, and much to my surprise and pleasure, the new movie was not a remake, but a continuation of the original.
The second movie…
I thought the setup was brilliant, with the kid whom ended up in possession of the game tossing it aside, saying, “Who plays board games anymore?” (I do, in-fact, many people do, but it was still funny) While the boy slept, the game then transformed itself into a game cartridge compatible with the system the boy had been playing. Not only did that transformation bring the story closer to current times, it also provided a way to approach the ‘sucked into a game’ concept in an entirely different way.
While the first movie was billed as a fantasy horror, this one is more of an action comedy. Each of the main characters ends up playing someone who is pretty much the opposite of their real-life selves, and the actors pulled it off beautifully. Dwayne Johnson muttering to himself things like, “Don’t cry… don’t cry… Don’t Cry!” was fun, but Jack Black, playing a game character who’s real life player was a self absorbed teenage girl… that was over the top fantastic – he did it so well! That alone could have carried the movie for me, but it didn’t have to.
This new Jumanji game was obviously set up to be more fun than horrific, with the unusual strengths and weaknesses, riddles, dance fighting, and such. It was a lot of fun, listening to Dwayne Johnson talk like a true gaming nerd, explaining NPC’s and other details of the game to his fellow player characters. The plot of the movie was a bit hokey, but it was a game, so that was actually fitting.
Another way that this movie built upon the original was in the escalation of the LARP feel of the game. While that theme has been in anime before, I don’t recall it being done so well in movies. Well, OK, there is Tron, but that had an entirely different feel. This was an adventure, where people actually felt as though they were player characters who had bodies and skills that were entirely outside they player’s real lives. And yes, there was also the Matrix movies… but those weren’t about gaming, but about survival in a brutal world. OK, so, among the movies about which one could say they ere reminiscent of LARPing, I think the second Jumanji movie did it the best.