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Jumanji

a film review by Peter Knapp

Rating: 2 out of 4

Both Toy Story and Jumanji are effects-laden movies. The former is the first full-length computer- generated animated movie; the latter uses computer animation to mix real and fantastical animals with live human actors. While both movies make extensive use of special effects, the end results differ drastically.

In Jumanji, a magical game of the the same name encourages its participants to play the game through to its conclusion. While participants can stop playing at any time, the damage done by previous turns cannot be undone unless play continues. Early in the movie, a young boy is sucked into the game itself. The girl playing with him is so freaked out, she runs away, trapping the boy "inside" the game. Several years later, two children start playing the game; and Robin Williams pops out -- the young boy who had been sucked into the game years earlier has grown up inside the game and must now convince his grown-up former gaming partner to continue playing the game they started all those years ago. So, the four gamers (two old, two young) must finish the game or suffer the consequences.

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) created all the animals used in the movie. With the exception of a few scenes using mechanical animals, most of the animals are computer-generated. As you may know, ILM previously created the computer-generated dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

I knew the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were special effects, but that didn't matter. I found them believable, even when interacting with the live human actors. (Of course, I didn't have a frame of reference to compare the computer-generated dinosaurs against, so that may have helped me suspend my disbelief.) Most of the animals in Jumanji were based on real ones; and the computer-animated ones just didn't come close to the real ones. I found the special effects (and there were a lot of them) deterred from my enjoyment.

But the real problem with the movie is the premise. While watching the four protagonists try to survive Jumanji, early on the audience learns that if the characters play the game to its conclusion, everything that has gone awry will be restored to the way it was before the game began. This removed all tension for me, as every time something "bad" happened, I knew by the end of the movie everything would be reversed if one of the four won the game.

Joe Johnson directed Jumanji. He is probably best known for his special effects work at ILM. More recently, he directed Rocketeer. I recently read an interview with Joe Johnson in which he claimed he enjoys making movies that are driven by the story as opposed to by the effects. That may have been true of Rocketeer; but Jumanji turned into one big, unbelievable special effect extravaganza. It's fun to watch, but not very satisfying.

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