Arts, Column

Ruining the Mysticism of ‘Jumanji’

It feels like the more I write about sequels, the more sequels are greenlit in Hollywood that particularly piss me off. Whether it’s the new Jurassic World film in the works or the laughably atrocious Bridget Jones’s Baby that was released last week, the never-ending litany of Hollywood franchises tends to disgust me significantly. No sequel, I think, has ever dug under my skin as much as the idea of the Jumanji sequel that apparently started filming this week.

Monday evening, Kevin Hart posted a photo on Instagram of himself, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan surrounded by a lush, green forest. The actors, all dressed in safari gear, look prepared to face the dangers of the mystical forest that swallowed up Robin Williams and spat him back out in the first film. In the photo’s caption, Hart informs his fans that the first day of filming the Jumanji sequel had just wrapped.

Apparently, the mysticism that characterized the forest that existed in the Jumanji game wasn’t enough for the writers or Hollywood executives behind this sequel. Instead of being satisfied with Williams’s startling, abrasive assurance that we couldn’t possibly imagine the terrors that lie in that jungle, some Hollywood hacks have decided to make their own interpretation of the world of Jumanji. It’s due to be released in 2017.

I never even really liked Jumanji growing up. It probably has something to do with the film’s man-eating plants. I don’t usually mind most monsters in movies, but for some reason man-eating plants are near the top of my list of fears. That’s probably also why I’ll never watch Little Shop of Horrors.

Though I didn’t like Jumanji because it creeped me out, I always appreciated one aspect of it—what little is said about the world of Jumanji and all the horrifying implications and images this brings to mind regarding said world. When Williams’s character jumps back to reality, it’s obvious that he has seen more than our world could ever possibly have to offer—and not in a good sense. The alleviation he feels upon his return home as well as the terror that wraps around him when he sees something from the Jumanji world come from Williams’s eyes and his eyes alone.

When Williams talks about the Jumanji world, he doesn’t have much to say. He doesn’t go on describing the creatures that kept him up at night or the dangerous environments he had to traverse—he simply says that we can’t imagine what he’s been through.

These two elements—Williams’s performance and the decision not to discuss in-depth Jumanji’s world—are what make Jumanji great. They leave viewers to imagine all the most terrible creatures and places thinkable for themselves. Jumanji held a world that was personally terrifying to everybody who sat there and really thought about what the scariest things imaginable are. Sure, the movie gives us a few examples of the kinds of creatures and people lurking in that separate world, but the film implies that there is so much more to that other world, leaving a lot to the viewer’s imagination alone.

Now, thanks to Jack Black and Kevin Hart, the Jumanji world will be given form. I presume, based on the photos of the cast in a jungle setting, that most of the new film will take place in Jumanji’s jungle world. Hollywood is thus asserting that the world in this Jumanji is the world that Williams’s character had to live in for 26 years. The world that this sequel holds cannot match the ones that we, the viewers, have each created in our own minds. Instead, the writers will think up some banal creatures that, while they could be scary to some, will not be nearly as personally horrifying as the things we thought up for ourselves years ago.

The sadder thought is that the movie that these guys are making probably didn’t have to be a Jumanji sequel. Sure, Jumanji inspired the writers of this movie to think up a dark, scary forest, but they didn’t have to call it the Jumanji forest. This new movie could have been about these four explorers traversing an untamable landscape. There’s no real mythology from Jumanji to carry over. There’s just a board game and a forest. So why call it a Jumanji sequel? Money. To rake in those that’ll say, “Hey, that first one was pretty good.”

The people behind the new Jumanji movie have decided to risk tarnishing a great concept. And, it’ll probably do pretty well at the box office, maybe even inspiring a trilogy or a saga—a thought even scarier than the original Jumanji forest.

Featured Image By Columbia Pictures

September 22, 2016