Jumanji sequel a better-than-expected frolic in the home theatre
By Jim Bray
Sony Pictures' sequel to its Jumanji remake is a surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining couple of hours in the home theatre and you don't need to have seen the "original" to appreciate it.
That was my case, anyway. I never saw the original remake (how's that for an oxymoron?), nor did I see the original original with Robin Williams. But I've enjoyed the Dwayne Johnson movies I've seen and I've liked Karen Gillan since her days as Amy Pond in Doctor Who. That, plus the promised exquisite picture quality possible from the 4K UHD HDR disc version made me interested in this latest bit of escapist entertainment, interested in seeing it, and in reviewing it.
Alas, Sony Canada only sent the conventional, 1080p Blu-ray, so the closest I could get to UDH's 2160p was to up convert the Blu-ray via my Oppo UDP-205 player – and if you have to do an up conversion like that, the Oppo is probably the best way to do it. Too bad it's no longer available.
Anyway, all I'd known about Jumanji before sitting down with the Blu-ray was that it was about some folks who find themselves inside a game (a video game in this case), much like Mary Poppins and her tagalongs zapped into a cartoon world in the original Disney masterpiece.
That's about where the comparisons to Mary Poppins end, though, and that's okay.
The movie follows the adventures of Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) three years after their first trip to Jumanji's virtual world. Spencer is supposed to meet up with his "team" at a diner, but instead of showing up it turns out he's missing altogether, and no one knows where he went until the team discovers the old Jumanji game in Spencer's basement. They figure he must be in some kind of trouble – else he wouldn't have missed their rendezvous – so they decide to re-enter the Jumanji world to help him get home again.
Naturally, things don't really work out that way – or not until we've sat through a rip snortin' two-hour ride that's not only fun on its own, it's also a hoot if you're a video gamer. I know this latter point because I've been spending several otherwise productive hours over the past couple of months playing with some PS3 classics such as King's Quest (which was also a PC classic many years ago) and a couple of Star Wars games. And Jumanji does hearken back to such games' features and strategies.
One of the first things that throws a monkey wrench into the team's plans is the presence of Spencer's crusty grandfather (Danny DeVito) and his former friend and partner Milo (Danny Glover). They're zapped into the game universe by mistake, while one of the previous adventurers is left behind.
Not only that, but the cast materializes as different avatars from their first visit's, and that gives the writers a terrific opportunity for some comedy. It's very entertaining, for example, to see Dwayne Johnson doing his best Danny DeVito impression (and it's a pretty good one!) while Jack "Black" channels the black guy who suddenly shows up in his body rather than Kevin Hart's.
In order to save their little friend, the team is forced to search out a really bad guy (who's like the boss at the end of video game levels, a tough bugger to defeat!) and retrieve from him a magical stone that will restore Jumanji to its original glory. And this is what sets them out across the video game landscape, searching not only for Spencer but to complete the game as well so they can save Jumanji.
There's some gender bending as well as "character bending" and it all works beautifully. It also is handled straight, with no social justice warrior crap hammered into it for the sake of political correctness.
The action is comic book, and in places very game-like (including a scene in which the gang has to escape across a huge number of moving and morphing rope/suspension bridges like you've seen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Dung – er, Doom, while trying to escape a huge gang of mad, CG mandrills who are bent on well, I'm not sure what they were bent on, but it sure wasn't good as far as the players are concerned.
There are also some gorgeous locations here, from lush jungles to arid deserts (the latter of which is accompanied by a lovely homage to Lawrence of Arabia in Henry Jackman's musical score) as well as some lovely mountainous locations I believe were filmed in the Rockies just west of where I'm sitting now (the IMDB entry says it was filmed partially in "Calgary", which is quite possible since there's a sound stage here, but I'm sure I recognized some of the mountain locations as well.
And there's plenty of CG stuff, too, as one would expect from this type of film these days, and in this case it's nearly all seamless rather than having the CG critters/stuff stick out like a sore thumb. It isn't perfect, but it's very good.
There's also some pretty good humour in the script, and I laughed out loud more than once.
It's a movie that you should probably see after viewing the "original", but as I discovered it's also fit to stand on its own. In that, it reminded me of Paddington 2, which I saw before I saw the original but which was good enough that I sought out the first movie afterward – only to discover that the sequel was the better film!
Even though I was disappointed that Sony didn't send the 4K disc version, the Blu-ray is a fine one even if you don't up convert it to 4K. In fact, the Blu-ray looks great in 1080p, with rich and lush colours, nice and deep black levels and the kind of fine detail you can get from Blu-rays in which the studio releasing them has paid attention to the task at hand. Skin, costumes, textures, look great and the picture practically pops off the screen like the best Blu-rays do.
Audio, surprisingly in this day and age, isn't offered in Dolby Atmos but rather is "merely" DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This didn't bother me a whit, however, because I'm like most of us and haven't upgraded my audio to be Atmos-compatible (which requires new speakers and amplification channels that, to me, just aren't worth it in my home theatre).
It's a very satisfying sound track, with lovely dynamics and surround channel use. Bass is tight and full, but not enough to rattle stuff in your room (well, maybe a couple of brief rattles…) and the overall fidelity is top notch.
Sony says the 4K version is IMAX-enhanced and features digitally remastered content with High Dynamic Range and DTS:X audio.
The Blu-ray also comes with a DVD and a code for a digital download, as well as an abundance of extras, including a gag reel, some behind-the-scenes featurettes, scene breakdowns, and more.
Jumanji: The Next Level won't go down in movie history as the next Ben-Hur (hell, even the next Ben-Hur from a couple of years ago couldn't do that!), but if you're looking for an entertaining couple of hours in the home theatre that'll make you laugh and maybe even sit on the edge of your seat – without insulting your intelligence by ramming a message down your throat – then this might be the title for you.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray