Hear the Drums, Fear the Game

by | Apr 21, 2022 | Movies & TV | 0 comments

If you know Jumanji, you probably get chills just reading that drum beat. For those who don’t, Jumanji is a 1995 comedic adventure movie starring Robin Williams that was continued in 2017 and 2020 with a pair of sequels starring (among others) Dwayne Johnson. The premise is a game that becomes all too real once a player makes the first move.

The original features Jumanji, the board game, with a beautifully crafted wooden board that folds out and a magic 8-ball style glass inset that reads the results of the dice throws. As the tokens advance along the game board, elements from fictional Jumanji spill over into the real world to threaten the players’ lives. Robin Williams’ character is an adult who was sucked into the game after failing to finish it as a child. He aids a pair of hapless siblings who’ve stumbled onto the old game out of boredom and are now trying to fend off the same curse.

Jumanji sat idle for two decades until it was rebooted. When the mystical game is rediscovered, no one is interested in a board game. So, being the sentient kind of cursed magical artifact, it adapts: it becomes a video game.

Unlike the original, the new versions take the main cast into the game world… into Jumanji. This opens a whole new set of storytelling aspects that are just fascinating. While the original had 2 kids acting opposite Robin Williams, this new take allows for a cast of teenagers in the real world, and big-name actors doing the heavy lifting carrying the franchise in the game world.

Much of the appeal of the 1995 version is Robin Williams. This can be said of just about everything he did (except maybe Popeye). Part of the brilliance of the sequels is having charismatic, well-known actors portraying teenagers living in different, more (or less) capable bodies.

Dwayne Johnson is playing an awkward geek whose avatar is… well, Dwayne Johnson.

Karen Gillian is a dorky, self-conscious introvert inhabiting an athletic assassin.

Kevin Hart’s teenager is a high school football star trapped in the body of an equipment manager.

Jack Black is the coolest girl in school, an influencer who’s horrified (and a little intrigued) to find herself in the body of a middle aged guy.

Lastly, we have Nick Jonas as the 90’s metalhead who got stuck in the game, just like Robin Williams’ character did.

This sets up so much comedy, drawing on culture shock, fish-out-of-water syndrome, personality clashes, and body dysphoria. Not to mention the fact that the game they’re playing is, while dangerous, also utterly cheesy and ridiculous.

The writing is tight. The plot doesn’t have notable holes. The dialogue and acting are on point.

For all its charm, the 1995 version feels like a prequel, the kind of heartwarming “watch it on a rainy weekend” kind of film. The recent editions are action blockbusters that fit the mold of 80’s classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Goonies. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and you’ll be willing to watch it again even knowing how it turns out.

THAT is the hallmark of a good action/adventure movie.

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