Spherical Panavision - 1.85:1
1.67:1 - 16:9
Screenplay by: Jonathan Hensleigh and Greg Taylor & Jim Strain
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Starring: Robin Williams, Jonathan Hyde, Kirsten Durst, Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt, Bebe Neuwirth, David Alan Grier, Adam Hann-Byrd, Laura Bundy
Adapted from the award-winning book by Chris Van Alsburg, Jumanji is the tale of a magical "African Adventure" board game that does some nasty things to the people who make the mistake of playing it. The film starts out with the evil game being buried by its former owner, and found decades later by youngster Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd). He and his friend Sarah (Laura Bundy) start playing, and before long, the game sucks Alan into itself, and Sarah is chased off by bats. Alan doesn't reappear until 26 years later, when two other children, Judy and Peter (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce), find the game and free a now grown Alan (Robin Williams) from the games clutches. Unfortunately, Jumanji has already conjured up an entire menagerie of African beasts to torment Judy and Peter with, and the animals now have the run of the town. The only way to bring things back to normal is to find the grown-up Sarah (Bonnie Hunt), and finish the game that started 26 years earlier.
Jumanji doesn't really have much in the way of a plot, and the screenplay is pretty much is written solely to jump you from one special effects sequence to another...and there are a lot of special effects. The cast faces everything from a body-dissolving vortex, to bats, evil monkeys, a man-eating vine, giant mosquitoes, giant spiders, a stampede, and much more. Nearly every effect is accomplished through CGI (computer generated) techniques, and the effects crew has done an outstanding job in attempting to recreate animal life. Unfortunately, you also find yourself always aware of the fact that you are looking at computer-generated animals, since the motion and facial expressions tend to look just unnatural enough to keep that realization in your head. Even so, the special effects don't really distract from the film, and I have to admit that the idea of a nasty board game really appeals to my twisted side. Also, although Jumanji is rated "PG", I'd use some proper judgment and think twice before showing the film to younger children. The film does have some intense moments, and just seeing the trailer for this film in a theatre scared the living hell out of both my kids (my daughter is 5, and my son is nearly 8). Although I think they'd find the film fun, I'm definitely not going to show this to them for several years.
Released on DVD by Columbia TriStar Home Video, Jumanji is presented only in a widescreen format, and is contained on one side of the DVD. The disc starts out with 2m27s promotional preview from Columbia TriStar, which touts the DVD format and shows some clips from future releases (none are letterboxed). As for the film itself, Jumanji was filmed in the 1.85:1 Spherical Panavision process, and appears letterboxed on disc at about 1.67:1 (it is also enhanced for 16:9 widescreen TVs). The picture is slightly larger than it should be, but the film is not harmed by this in the slightest. As you've come to expect from DVD, the overall image quality is impeccably sharp and colorful, but I did notice one problem. In the scene located at 1:03:30 - 1:03:31 (the Hunter is dropping coins onto a store counter), the Hunter's hand becomes very blurry and seems to shift strangely. I believe this is an artifact in the transfer, but since I haven't a laserdisc to compare it to, I cannot say for sure.
Jumanji also has four different audio channels: a 2-channel English Dolby Surround track, a 6-channel English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and both Spanish and French 2-channel Dolby Surround tracks. The disc defaults to the 2-channel English Dolby Surround track upon startup (if you have English selected in your setup, of course), but I highly recommend switching over to the 6-channel soundtrack as soon as possible. Although the 2-channel mix is fine, the Dolby Digital tracks have a much greater definition and make the 2-channel mix sound like mono in comparison. Since this is an effects film, you really should be listen to the film with the best possible sound, and Dolby Digital is the way to go. The French and Spanish language tracks are both fine, and the 2-channel Dolby Surround mix is comparable to the 2-channel English. The audio can be selected through the "audio" button on the remote, or through the menu options. And by the way, the final scene in the film has two other youngsters finding the Jumanji game...I found it interesting that in the English and Spanish versions, the children speak French, but in the French version they speak Spanish...just thought I'd tell you.
With regards to subtitling options, Columbia TriStar has only included Spanish and Korean subtitles on the disc, and this is apparently all that appears on their other titles as well. Although the subtitles are very readable onscreen, I cannot tell you about their actual content since my Spanish and Korean are, ahem, nonexistent. Part of the appeal of DVDs to many people was the fact that English subtitling would be present, which is perfect for the hearing impaired or for those people speaking another language and trying to learn English. While the overall disc is fine, Columbia TriStar has done the public a great disservice by not including English subtitles as a standard. Hopefully this problem will be rectified with future releases. In the meantime, the disc is encoded with English closed-captioning, but that requires the use of an external decoder. By the way, the Spanish and Korean subtitles can be switched around with your remote or through the menu options.
Jumanji's interactive menu options are rather limited, allowing for chapter, spoken language and subtitle selection only. There are no other special features like a trailer or cast notes. In the "chapter selection" section, all 59 chapters are featured and are spread out of 12 "pages". The chapter listings are presented as descriptions only (no corresponding image), on a background featuring Jumanji's cover artwork. Although perfectly functional, Columbia TriStar's overall menu design is extremely bland when compared to the snazzy "designer" interactive menus that show up on all of the other studios' discs.
Columbia TriStar has released Jumanji in both standard "jewel box" and "keep case" packaging. I haven't seen the jewel box packaging, as all my local retailers have been carrying only the "keep case" versions of Columbia TriStar's titles, but at least their "keep case" is much sturdier than the cardboard/plastic variety used by the other companies. This "keep case" is exactly the same size as the cardboard ones, only it is designed to resemble the all-plastic clamshell videotape cases (only DVD sized instead of video sized). Instead of having a printed cover, the outer portion of the case is a plastic sleeves containing a full color printed insert. The inside of the case is even nicer. On the left side, two large plastic clips hold a four-page booklet snugly in place. The color booklet (it's about 5" x 7.125") reprints the cover art, features some pictures, and contains a full listing of all 59 chapters. Also included in the package is a six-page mini-brochure (exactly CD-booklet sized) which shows the covers of 30 Columbia TriStar DVD titles (4 already released, 26 upcoming). On the right-hand side, the DVD itself it held snugly in place by a very good, locking-type assembly. Although sturdier, it's different enough and takes some getting used to - a sticker has been placed on inside to show you how to remove the disc properly. Unfortunately, although I like this new locking assembly, I really don't like it...for people like me who have several dead/numb fingers on their right hand, getting the disc out is a bit of a pain. Jumanji is encoded for Region 1 players only (U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada), and is also encoded to support your player's "parental control" function.
To sum up, if you just want to watch the film, you can't go wrong with the Jumanji DVD. However, although Columbia TriStar has done a commendable job with the transfer, the lack of English subtitles and supplementary materials is extremely disappointing. These are two valuable features that definitely need to be included in future releases, and I hope to see them.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 05/09/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97