Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

By Tim McEown

Mailed on January 04, 2018

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Dear Owen Paterson
Production Designer

Dear Owen,

Everything about Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle was good enough. The performances were good enough, the stunts, the moderately clever way the writers updated the premise, the overall look of the film—all of these various components—just good enough.

If you’re detecting a grinding sarcasm here, you’d be about half right.

In some ways this was perfectly serviceable entertainment. There was nothing overtly non-functional about it and there were a few better than average moments. It wasn’t obviously offensive or too winking or even particularly dull. I liked Jack Black’s character (although that may be more about his being charming in small doses than anything to do with his turn as a 16 year old woman finding herself inhabiting the body of a 50-ish man), and the Rock was his usual amiable and entirely predictable self. There is some small comfort in knowing exactly what you’re going to get. Both good and bad.

Where I fell off the wagon as far as this hayride goes was fairly early on the film. In a flashback sequence to the time of the first Jumanji—1995—a particular kid was sitting in his bedroom. A self-professed "metal head’, his room was an immaculately constructed example of good enough.

The requisite Black Sabbath T-Shirt. The obligatory posters. The inevitable long hair. The vaguely unruly attitude. A middling to fair simulation of an actual person from an actual time.

Good enough.

It’s just not good enough for me, anymore. This isn’t snobbishness, or me turning up my nose at mere entertainment. One of my best movie going experiences this year was Thor: Ragnarokand that never even hinted at being anything other than a good time. There was nothing about either film that made me think inside it, wondering if a certain moment, or intimation, meant something other than exactly what was up on the screen. I don’t need subtext to enjoy the text, not matter how straightforward.

What I do need is a commitment to making the world I’m being asked to accept at least minimally lived in and real—even if that "real" is living just inside of the brain of whomever wrote the film.

Because no self-respecting metal head would ever wear a Sabbath shirt that looked like it had just come out the laundry of a four star hotel—the whites so white it would blind a Gorgon. Also: sleeves. I wasn’t even aware metal shirts came with sleeves until someone gave me a KISS shirt as a joke. The posters looked like they were laminated in unbreakable plastic and were perfectly aligned, instead of filled with pin holes and tears from re-scotch taping to make room for the next Fear Factory. And the hair. God’s sake, even the vainest of my metal friends had more split ends than molecules, while this cinema poseur looked like his hair was laminated at the same shop as the posters.

Nick Jonas as a metal head? I mean COME ON. I’ll accept Jeff Goldblum wearing makeup that looks like it was applied by a twelve-year-old, so it takes a lot to really put me off. And this is why Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle kind of sucked for me. I’m more willing than most to spend my time and energy finding my way into a film, no matter how far-fetched, if there is equal good faith and effort from the other side.

Every aspect of this production is a celebration of good enough. Stunt a little flat and maybe ill-timed? Good enough, no one will notice, now onto the next set up. CGI muddy and often just flat out bad? Good enough, we can pass it off as deliberate and say we’re aping the aesthetic of the day. The whole production design uninspired and rote feeling? Good enough, the usual apologists will use the old line—“it’s just fun, after all.”

No, it’s not the end of western civilization. But I’m getting tired of being expected to turn a blind eye to obvious laziness and lack of interest, just on the hope if I squint just the right way I can see what small pleasures do exist in films like Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle.



PS: The title, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, is a perfect example of exactly the amount of thought and wit that went in to the making of this entire film. Good enough to illicit a sort of dad joke chuckle.

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