Jumanji (1995)

Every film is a roll of the dice

jumnji1James Horner brought me here.

You see, I’d never seen the original Jumanji. Don’t know why, it’s just one of those films that seemed to pass me by. It was a popular enough film at the time, I believe, and I used to go the cinema all the time back then, in 1994/1995/1996, but somehow I didn’t go see it. Maybe I’d read some negative reviews. The real curio is that somehow I never even got around to it over the years since, on tv or disc releases. When the remake/reboot was released in 2017 and got some positive reviews, I refrained from watching it because I hadn’t seen the original (I’m old-school enough to think it’s best to see the original before watching a remake/reboot).

So why don’t we watch some films, but watch others instead? Is it simply because, one day we finally get around to it, and it’s the right time? Or maybe, somewhere, there is a really great film but we’ll never get around to it, like it’s that love of our life that we just missed by crossing over the street at just the wrong time? Maybe there’s a film out there that I’ve never even heard of, maybe its a foreign film, but its a film thats just perfect for me, that I would fall head over heels for and simply adore if only I could see it, but I never will?

Well, thats life, I guess. But the romantic in me, the romantic lover of films in me, anyway, would like to think we see the films we deserve and we get to see the best as well as the worst. But maybe there is always the chance that there is something better, that the best, the most perfect film for any of us, might still be out there. Maybe it’s waiting for the right day for us to finally discover it. Maybe it hasn’t been made yet, but someone’s writing the script right this minute, or the lead actor/actress is just leaving drama school ready to make their mark. That we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Anyway, Jumanji isn’t that film, clearly, but I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Maybe in back in 1996 (Jumanji was released late 1995 in the States, but reached UK early the year after) simply wasn’t the right time. Robin Williams still had other, and greater films ahead, James Horner still had many scores to write, including Titanic ahead of him, and back at the very beginning, really, of things, Kirsten Dunst had a whole career ahead of her. Sitting here in the dark days of 2019 though it seems like a wonderful bubble of nostalgia, a reminder of the good old days, a moment in time lost to us now. I think the James Horner score is a big part of that, which, as I say, is what got me here. I never bought the soundtrack album (it must have been just around the time I’d stopped blind-buying his scores) so I wasn’t at all familiar with it, but when I saw the 4K disc in a sale a few months back (I think it was about £8) it was the fact it was a James Horner score on it that swung me into buying it.

Its certainly a rarity now, seeing/hearing a film for the first time with a James Horner score, a special treat. Just watching it and hearing Horner’s old familiar tropes, so irritating at the time, honestly (Horner became notorious, especially later in his career for almost plagiarizing himself with scores), is almost endearing, now.

Naturally much of the charm of this film is simply because of the time the film was made and the talent involved. Joe Johnson, the director, fresh from Disney’s brilliant (albeit ill-received at the time) Rocketeer movie (and there’s a blu-ray I need to watch sometime soon). Robin Williams, in nicely restrained mode here, what a talent he was, so able to channel a wonderful childish element into his performance as a man who has grown up trapped in a game. Jonathan Hyde, like James Horner, had James Cameron’s Titanic just ahead of him. An incredibly young Kirsten Dunst, fresh from Interview With a Vampire. Bonnie Hunt, who would later appear in The Green Mile but spend most of her career in voiceover work and television shows. And there’s Beatrice Neuwirth (always Lilith from Frasier to me). And of course ILM. I guess it could be argued that ILM was as much the star of the film as any of the cast, it’s so dependant on its visual effects, which naturally as the film dates from the early days of CGI effects haven’t aged too well.  But like blue screen bleed and dodgy matte lines and paintings, its all a part of its time and its charm- all part of the learning curve that gets us from Jurassic Park to, well, Jurassic World, or T2 to, er, Terminator: Dark Fate, which is not an endearing way of suggesting we have traveled far and gotten precisely nowhere.

So anyway, I finally got around to watching Jumanji, and it turned out I possibly caught up with it in the best way possible, on a 4K UHD disc that displayed all the best (and possibly its worst) in great detail in widescreen rather than VHS pan and scan, and uninterrupted by ads or people getting up during the cinema presentation to rush to the loo. You know, all that stuff we put up with, or used to in the old days.

And now of course I can appreciate the James Horner score all the more simply because his scores simply are no more. And I can watch Robin Williams and smile and appreciate his talent and the loss, and wonder at the sadness that would one day overtake him. Films are not seperate from real life, although they are microcosms of time, bubbles of moments, in this case, a bubble of 1995. Yeah, Jumanji is great fun, in some ways it seems like its from some more innocent and simpler time, but in other ways it’s clear that so little has really changed.




Midnight Special (2016)

midnite1.jpg2016.61: Midnight Special (Amazon VOD)

Like Super 8 a few years back, Midnight Special displays its inspirations clearly- it’s very much kin to Steven Spielberg’s seminal CE3K and ET, and also John Carpenter’s Starman. Indeed, while it often looks like a Spielberg film it also feels like a Carpenter film because of an electronic score by David Wingo that sounds very much from a Carpenter film of that period. Midnight Special just overflows with this sense of being an artifact from circa 1977-1982, the danger naturally being this can bring to mind better movies. I guess it shares common ground with so many other cinema-referential films of late, such as Super 8 – films harking back to the films that influenced current film-makers. A generational thing then, and further sign I’m getting old when so much of the films I grew up with winds up in ‘new’ films, even the ones that aren’t reboots?

That being said, Midnight Special is, on a whole, quite superior to stuff like Super 8. For one thing it doesn’t feel so reverential, and does try to do something new even though it eventually falters. The first half of the film is its strongest, with the mystery holding the most attention; two adults are on the run having kidnapped a young boy, and they are being chased by both Government forces and agents of a strange religious cult. Having pretty much been dropped into the middle of a chase movie with X-Files undertones, its fun trying to unravel the backgrounds of the characters and what is really going on and why. Inevitably the film can’t really maintain the mystery and its reveals aren’t as imaginative or original as one would hope. That said, it’s a great thriller for most of its running time even if the conclusion leaves us asking more questions than is perhaps healthy for what I believe is a standalone picture.

The cast is pretty great, except, unfortunately, for Kirsten Dunst. She plays the childs mother, Sarah, and there really isn’t any conviction in her portrayal of motherhood, or indeed any chemistry between her and the child’s father, Roy (Michael Shannon)- it is a huge vacuum that the film doesn’t really recover from. I don’t know if it’s simply the script at fault (in Dunst’s defence, it is a fairly underwritten part) or miscasting, but somethings wrong and the film suffers for it, losing the emotional core that, say, ET had. Other than that, there is plenty to recommend in this film- a fairly low budget affair (something like just $20 million) it’s certainly more imaginative and entertaining than most of this summers blockbuster releases.