Late last week, the new trailer for Columbia Pictures’ new reboot of Jumanji hit the internet, led by Hollywood’s new favourite leading man Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson alongside Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence), Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) and Jack Black (come on guys its Jack Black).
For those of you who have not seen it already, here it is.
If I am honest, and I know it may seem sacrilegious for some of you, I have not seen the original Jumanji (1995). Even though it stars my childhood and – let’s face it – adulthood hero, Robin Williams, me and the film never crossed paths.
However, I do know the overall concept of Joe Johnston’s much adored classic: if I am right – something Wikipedia has just confirmed – Williams has been trapped in the titular board game since he was a boy, until he and the game’s jungle mayhem are freed by an unsuspecting family of which one of the kids is Kirsten Dunst. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this first teaser trailer for the 2017 project only bares a vague resemblance to Joe Johnston’s film – it itself being an adaptation Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 picture book. In many ways, the two films only seem to share the title and one basic premise.
It is fair to say that these changes have been met with some mixed emotions. On the one hand, certain people in the movie business have asserted that the changes, although unexpected, seem to be rather entertaining and have the potential to be rather hilarious. I myself enjoyed the trailer. Whether it is the Rock’s trademark eyebrow raise or Jack Black playing a self-absorbed teen stuck in a middle-aged, ‘curvy geniuses’’ body, I believe that Jake Kasdan’s film (which does not hit UK cinemas until after Christmas) has a lot to offer in terms of a high-concept adventure comedy.
Yet, the negative comments, of which there have been many, have not gone unnoticed. As of writing this article, the trailer I have attached above has just over 46,000 dislikes on YouTube. I first watched the trailer with my girlfriend – a huge fan of the original movie – and her response was simply: “That’s not Jumanji.’ A belief that has been echoed by many others.
It is also clear that this ‘backlash’ has not been missed by the film’s producers. And, a few hours after comment sections across the world erupted into two-sided carnage, Johnson’s million-dollar smile was deployed; taking to social media, the star released a minute-long video reassuring that this is not a remake, more so a homage.
All this got me thinking, a dangerous exercise as I and you know. See, if any of you follow movie news, or have just been paying attention to what has been arriving in cinemas over the past two years, you will have noticed two trends: franchise films (or attempts to set up franchises), and reboots – the taking of beloved or cult classics and repackaging them for a new audience.
Just this year we have had the likes of The Mummy and Power Rangers, as well as live-action reboots of treasured animations like Beauty and The Beast and Ghost in the Shell. Even the Rock himself starred in a reboot of the 1990s tv series, Baywatch, which at best only garnered mildly negative reviews. Johnson is also lined up to star in – if you haven’t got the message already – a reboot of John Carpenter’s 1980s hit Big Trouble in Little China.
This trend in Hollywood movies appears to be inescapable.
But why is this the case? Has Hollywood simply ran out of ideas?
Well, as long as there are good artists there will be new, fun and original ideas and ways of filmmaking. Look at the likes of Netflix’s Okja, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver or, taking TV into consideration, what Bryan Fuller just accomplished with American Gods. These, although emerging on the periphery of the mainstream, are bold, brash and championing newness.
Despite this however, the question still remains: why are we inundated with reboots and, to drag my new nemesis back into the ring, franchise films?
In my humble opinion, there are two distinct reasons for this; one that is financial and one that is cultural.
The first is rather simple. Take for instance the unlikely circumstance that a new humus infused cola were to hit supermarket shelves. Casual buyers – not you, humus hedonists – would be more willing to give said unusual product a shot it had Coca-Cola on the can rather than Colade written in comic-sans. Brand familiarity and recognition causes new ventures to be less of a financial risk, even if the product is in itself somewhat different from what they were expecting; we know what Coca-Cola is, we have had Coca-Cola before and we trust them to make good on their future humus ventures. Why do you think Apple felt they could remove the aux cable from their phones? Because they knew that people would still come back for the brand.
Film producers think in a similar fashion: if we put the name Jumanji onto a project that is dissociated enough from it to be its own thing, then we will not only attract those that like the new material but those who were engrossed in the original product. It works the same for franchises. Both Guardians of the Galaxy or even the Benedict Cumberbatch led Doctor Strange achieved tremendous financial success despite their obscurity, because the Marvel logo was always foregrounded and people knew that this was part of a larger brand that they trusted.
The second reason is this: we live in a retro focused culture. A culture that likes to revitalise what has come before – a somewhat hipster-esque mentality. From vinyl reappearing in HMV to H&M selling Pink Floyd t-shirts; Gucci’s reclaiming of embroidery to the re-emergence of polaroid cameras. Many areas of culture are looking back to figure out what should be the quote on quote ‘next big thing’. And it is no surprise that the film industry is trying to do the same, to play off the same nostalgia in a bid for us to cough up and buy tickets.
Now, you might be asking what is wrong with this mentality; so what if people want to reclaim what has come before; we still have the original and they can’t ruin that, we might as well let them do what they want.
Although this ambivalence is all well and good – there are after all more important issues facing us rather than someone remaking Back to the Future – this approach to filmmaking will have its detriment, especially in the sense that it will limit the prominence of new and original projects within the mainstream. It creates the consensus that repackaging and remodelling is the way forward, when it really should be inventing and creating. Of course nothing is truly original and artists are inspired and lend from other works all the time. Yet, the belief that what the public really needs is a reboot just for the sake of brand recognition, is less so an act of borrowing and more so confining what future artists can look to for inspiration. If everything is a copy of a copy, will we not be just trapped in a vicious culture of repetitiveness?
Based off the first trailer, I do think the new Jumanji film has the potential to be quite an entertaining flick. But it did not need to be called Jumanji. Although the Rock claims that this new film is a homage and lends from the original film and book, it seems as though it could have existed as its own property – after all, the Lion King was not called Hamlet Goes Savanna. By calling it Jumanji to get more butts in chairs through prompting some form of childhood nostalgia and simultaneously giving us something completely different, will only lead to disappointment. It is the worst kind of film marketing and making, and Hollywood should have more confidence in their own originality and the ability of audiences to spot something that is worth being seen.