Editor’s Notes: Jumanji, Breaker Morant, & Lost In Space: The Complete Adventures are out on their respective formats September 22nd.
Jumanji (Sony Home Entertainment) stars Robin Williams as Alan Parrish, who has been living in the jungle for 26 years, waiting to be freed from the spell cast by a lethal game he found in 1969, when he was 12. The movie opens in 1869 as a sturdy chest is buried in the woods, and then quickly flash-forwards 100 years as little Alan finds the chest in a construction site and opens it to discover a board game called “Jumanji.” He rolls the dice and is immediately thrilled by the game’s supernatural powers. The pieces on the board move themselves, ghostly messages float into focus in a cloudy lens, and Alan is attacked by a swarm of bats.
This was one of the first movies to showcase computer-generated images, and they are indeed impressive. However, they are more to show off the latest in special-effects technology than to be integral story ingredients. Williams appears about a half-hour into the film and seems lost among the CGI creatures and a meandering screenplay that tends to be confusing in its hows and whys. The movie is too dark and gloomy for a children’s film; the kids in the film face one harrowing encounter after another and seem constantly terrified. Like the video games that likely inspired the film, dangers pop up everywhere and must be dealt with instantly. Other than this, the story simply isn’t engaging.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include Jumanji Jungle Adventure, a virtual board game; special effects crew commentary; 3 behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes; Jumanji motion storyboard as read by author Chris Van Allsburg; storyboard comparisons; and episodes from Jumanji: The Animated Series.
Breaker Morant (The Criterion Collection) takes place around the turn of the 19th century during the Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. The story focuses on three court-martialed Australian soldiers fighting for the British Empire against the Dutch community of South Africans known as Boers. British forces occupy most of their territory. To defeat their guerrilla tactics, the British form an elite brigade known as the Bushveldt Carbineers. Made up mostly of Australian soldiers, it includes the three men standing trial: Lieutenants Harry “Breaker” Morant (Edward Woodward), so nicknamed for his horse-breaking skills; Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown); and George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Garfield).
On trial for alleged war crimes, the three men must prove that they were following orders and are being made into political pawns by the British imperial command. An inexperienced defense attorney (Jack Thompson) is assigned on short notice to defend the three men. Meanwhile, Germany threatens to aid the Boer community. The trial becomes a way for the British to both deny involvement in war crimes and keep Germany, which has its eyes on South Africa’s gold and diamond resources, out of the country.
Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies) directed this powerful indictment of Britain’s colonial empire-building. The script is riveting and the performances uniformly superb. Breaker Morant ranks right alongside All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory as films that take a cold, hard look at the reality of war, its military leaders, scapegoats, and unsung heroes.
Bonus features on the restored Blu-ray include audio commentary from 2004 featuring director Bruce Beresford, cinematographer Donald McAlpine, and actor Bryan Brown; interview with actor Edward Woodward from 2004; new piece about the Boer War; The Breaker, a 1973 documentary profiling the real Harry “Breaker” Morant; theatrical trailer; and a critical essay.
Lost In Space: The Complete Adventures
Lost In Space: The Complete Adventures (20th Century-Fox) is a massive, 18-DVD set of all 83 episodes of the science-fiction series that ran on CBS from 1965 to 1968. The spaceship “Jupiter II” was supposed to take the Robinson family on a five-year exploratory voyage to a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) — in the employ of an unnamed foreign government — sabotaged the control system but was then trapped aboard the ship when it took off. Smith was originally written as a thoroughly evil villain but evolved into an irksome, conceited foil who caused most of the episodes’ conflicts and provided comic relief. For the duration of the series, the Robinsons, Dr. Smith, and pilot Don West (Mark Goddard) were destined to wander through space, stopping on assorted planets in an attempt to find their way home.
The family were played by Guy Williams as Prof. John Robinson, June Lockhart as his wife, Maureen, and Billy Mumy (Will), Angela Cartwright (Penny), and Marta Kristen (Judy) as their children. The stories never tackled heavy themes or examined fully the show’s dramatic potential, settling instead on simple tales laced with humor, monsters, and cliff- hanger endings in the style of old movie serials. A main attraction was Robot B-9, designed by the same man who designed Robby the Robot for the feature film Forbidden Planet (1956). Robot B-9, endowed with great strength and futuristic weaponry, displayed human characteristics and was often Dr. Smith’s sidekick and partner in mischief.
Based loosely on Swiss Family Robinson, Lost In Space was produced in black and white during Season 1 and color in Seasons 2 and 3. In January, 1966, ABC programmed Batman opposite Lost In Space. To compete, Lost in Space adopted a campy style, with bright outfits, exaggerated action, and wild bad guys such as space cowboys, pirates, knights, vikings, wooden dragons, and Amazons introduced in ever more fantastic stories.
Bonus features in the Blu-ray set include new on-camera original cast interviews; original cast audio commentaries; “Lost In Space: The Epilogue,” a cast reunion performance of Billy Mumy’s unproduced 1980 script; two versions of the show’s unaired pilot; Guy Williams’ screen test; CBS promo featuring Dick Van Dyke; TV spots; outtakes; 1973 Lost In Space animated special; 20th anniversary interview with producer Irwin Allen; the feature “The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen;” and 1966 promotional interviews with Guy Williams, June Lockhart, and Jonathan Harris.