Exploring the gaming roots of Jumanji with director Jake Kasdan

The director behind Sony Pictures' reboot of Jumanji talks about video games' inspiration.

Anyone who’s seen the new Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle film (out now on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), knows that the old-fashioned board game has been upgraded to a video game. The film transports players into the video game world, where they become characters like Dwayne Johnson’s Spencer and Kevin Hart’s Fridge. Director Jake Kasdan hopes to further explore video games (beyond the mobile game that was released with the film). He talks about how video games influenced the film in this exclusive interview.

What went into the decision for Jumanji to take the video game route versus the board game of the original film?

That was the original idea that got everybody going. The original movie felt complete and didn’t really feel like something that you should redo. For years a lot of other people -- before I even came around -- tried to figure out what’s the next story you can tell. And this idea that it turns into a video game and that in order to play you have to enter the video game in the bodies of these video game avatars—was what opened it up again and became the exciting, inspiring idea.

© Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
© Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

What’s your own video game background?

The truth is I’m not a huge gamer anymore as I’ve gotten older and have a bunch of kids. When gaming was most meaningful to me was way back on Apple PC games. Then when console games got so much more sophisticated, I was of that initial Mario generation. There have been many moments over the course of my life where I’ve gotten really into something like Grand Theft Auto 3. That was as intense as any movie experience and it was just sort of dizzying. I was completely blown away by the extent of the storytelling.

What went into the live action aspect of the video game world?

The idea that felt like the big fun idea was that the kids enter the video game, but once they get there the world that they’re in feels completely real. Although you’re living by certain video game rules, the look and the feel of it are all completely dirt and flesh and blood. You’re not in a CG alternate reality. You’re in the jungle. That was a big way that we could differentiate from certain other video game type ideas that have happened before.

In some ways what they’re doing a super advanced version of virtual reality, which we’re seeing become a reality now today with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. What are your thoughts on VR?

Since I worked on this movie, I’ve received the very earliest stages of an education on how all of that works. Sony, who made this movie, is at the forefront of a lot of that development, so they’re fascinating people around to talk to us about that. I was very focused that this movie should feel really natural and like a real place. And as VR becomes more and more advanced, they are doing more of that. I really was trying to separate this movie from others that have had avatars in them, so it’s not that you’re driving from a remote location, you’re actually in there.

© Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
© Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Dwayne and Kevin are both gamers. Did that help at all having people on set that actually understand video games, since you don’t play as much any more?

Yeah, certainly. As I was preparing to film this movie, I brought myself up to speed on gaming. One of my best friends from childhood is a video game journalist, and I actually called him up and talked to him about what games were like, what the evolution has been in the last twenty years and how he would characterize the changes in the medium. And then I absolutely relied heavily on the fact that we had a lot of people among us, including DJ and Kevin to begin with, but also many other people around who could figure it all out together.

Sony came out with a mobile game, but do you see the potential for Jumanji as a video game at some point?

Yeah, I really do. It would be a great thing. And we’ve been talking about it, how that could work. My rule with all of it is it’s got to be good, so we want to do it well if we’re going to do it at all. It’s really hard to make anything great. A game is something we’d love to get into, but we’d love to have it be something that’s exciting right, as opposed to it being something we spun off and did for marketing. It’s like we don’t really have to do a game. We’ve love to, and we’re a Sony property and certainly they’ve got the mechanism to do a great game, so it’s something we’re starting to talk about.

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