Dwayne Johnson’s ‘Jumanji’ May Be Our Next Great Video Game Movie (That Isn’t Based On A Video Game) – Forbes

'Jumanji'

Photo courtesy of Sony

‘Jumanji’

CinemaCon began last night with Sony’s big presentation. We got that Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer, we got an enticing Dark Tower sizzle reel, more Blade Runner 2049 footage and some animation clips. But the closer was an extended (five minutes or so) look at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. While Sony knows they have a winner with that Marvel adventure, they know they might have a big one with Jumanji as well. And judging by the footage, they might very well have a huge hit on their hands this December.

It is no secret that I rolled my eyes 360-degrees when I first heard that Sony was reviving Jumanji. It seemed, on the surface, like another 90’s-era Sony hit that was being brought back because of a desire for shareholder-friendly IP. And, come what may, that’s still true. But once Sony went and got actual movie stars, namely Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black, my interest perked up. If we’re going to keep cranking out IP-related content, the key to success is going to be inspiring interest disconnected from said IP.

Do I care about Jumanji? Nope. But, especially after the delightful Central Intelligence, I’d gladly sit down for a Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart jungle-set adventure comedy, with Jack Black and Karen Gillan just sweetening the deal. There is a lot to like about the footage we saw, from the overall premise (an inversion of the original 1995 film, with four teenagers being plunged into the game itself), to the Avatar-like gimmick (said kids take the form of exaggerated video game characters) which lends itself to inherent fish-out-of-water comedy.

Imagine being a scrawny kid now encased in the body of The Rock. The notion of the kids ending up in somewhat different bodies (the muscular jock ends up inside Kevin Hart, the conventionally attractive blonde ends up inside Jack Black) is amusing, even if the gender switch leaves the core narrative with just one female character. Assuming nothing different transpires in that sense, my daughter is going to be pissed.

But yeah, the idea of, for example, Dwayne Johnson playing a terrified teenage boy is a solid comic foundation. And the use of video game tropes (each character has a special skill, and each character can only die twice before dying in real life) lends itself to potentially amusing situations.  Will the movie be any good? I have no idea, but there is tons of potential for a buzzy and family-friendly hit over the Christmas season right alongside Walt Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Universal/Comcast Corp.’s Pitch Perfect 3.

And it’s a good example, thus far, of a studio not remotely relying on a brand or the nostalgic appeal of a 22-year old star-driven hit from a lifetime ago. If Jumanji was a success partially thanks to Robin Williams (whose character is referenced at least once in the footage), then this new one will be as much about star+concept as well. The footage implies that the tone will be a bit less grim than the 1995 offering, but the use of video game “lives” will only enhance suspense throughout, since the rules allow any of the major players to “die” at any time at least twice.

The best thing I can say for it is that I am very much looking forward to seeing the finished film. It will break my heart if Jake Kasdan-and-friends drop the ball, but I’ll go in with genuine optimism.

And here’s another thing worth noting: If the film works and/or is a hit, it’ll be another example of a successful video game movie that isn’t actually based on a video game. As we all wring our hands over Hollywood’s inability to make a better-than-okay video game movie, we’ve seen at least a few recent offerings that dabbled in the tropes absent said source material.

To wit, Jumanji may follow in the footsteps of InceptionEdge of TomorrowWreck-It Ralph, Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One and (arguably) John WickCrankRun Lola Run and the likes of Dredd and The Raid. Heck, even though it was a flop and I’m among the few that liked it, I’d throw Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch into this sub-genre as well.

This isn’t a new idea, mind you, but we’re pretty much at a point where you can make a list of genuinely good/successful video game movies as long as they aren’t actually based on video games. And we’ll see this Christmas if Jumanji, a sequel to Jumanji which in-turn was based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book, qualifies. But the footage looked pretty great and there is a genuine cleverness at work in the premise and the casting.

Jumanji opens Dec. 22, 2017. I’m game.

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