Jake Kasdan is sensitive to the strong emotional feelings that people hold towards the films they grew up watching. As the son of legendary filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan, Jake watched his father construct the original Star Wars trilogy alongside George Lucas. An accomplished filmmaker in his own right, Jake’s latest film is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a loose remake of 1995’s Jumanji, which starred the late Robin Williams. “I think I first saw Jumanji when it was released on home video, and I enjoyed it very much,” says Kasdan. “What I liked about that film, and still like, is how it mixed genres. It’s a children’s adventure film, which is funny and scary at different points, and that was the tone I wanted to bring to this film.”
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle tells the story of four teenagers who discover a vintage video game while cleaning out their high school’s basement. After playing the game, the quartet is sucked into the game’s wilderness setting, trapped in the body of the avatars they selected when they began playing the game. Headlining the avatars is The Rock, AKA Dwayne Johnson, who plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone. Jack Black plays Professor Shelly Oberon, and Kevin Hart plays Franklin “Moose” Finbar. Recently, I had the chance to speak to Kasdan about his approach to remaking a beloved classic.
DG: How would you describe the relationship between this film and the 1995 film?
JK: This film continues with the game from the first film but not the characters from the first film, so, in that sense, it’s more of a sequel than a remake. What would the game be like today? That was the approach we took in terms of updating the first film and expanding on the story from the first film. The game is more challenging in this film; it’s more difficult, and it’s evolved. This Jumanji seeks out kids, teenagers, and it has a reason for doing this, which is that it wants to show kids, show the players of the game, how to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. This film continues with the game from the first film but not the characters. That being said, this film contains all of the elements that people loved, that I loved, in the first film, and I think it’s a fitting tribute to the original film and to Robin Williams.
DG: What did Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and The Rock bring to this film, to their characters, that maybe you weren’t expecting?
JK: They have such distinctive personalities, and we actually wrote the characters for them after I joined the project. We almost had to change this when it looked like The Rock wasn’t going to be able to do the film because of a scheduling conflict. Luckily, the other film that The Rock was committed to starring in was pushed back, so we were able to build the main character around Dwayne. We wanted Kevin and Jack to be alongside Dwayne very badly, and when we knew we had all three of them, we built the characters around them, and everything just fell into place after that.
DG: How did the three of them work together?
JK: They improvised dialogue at times, which was great because they all know themselves as actors, know their personas, so well, and they’re very comfortable in their own skin.
DG: As this is described as being an adventure-comedy film, how do you make an action-adventure film funny and vice-versa?
JK: You approach those elements entirely separately. When we were shooting the comedic scenes, I was making a comedy film, and it was the same with the action-adventure scenes. I wanted those scenes to be intense and frightening. When you’re working with The Rock, who’s probably the biggest action film star in the world right now, you have to create action sequences that are worthy of his physical presence, because that’s what people expect. When The Rock is fighting a creature in this film, there has to be a sense of danger.
DG: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the filming?
JK: We filmed primarily in Hawaii, in a rain forest, and being in an actual location, experiencing the raw physicality that’s inherent when you’re standing in an authentic location, established a strong sense of reality for the cast and crew. Because of that, it was much easier to work with the digital effects than it would have been if we’d created the entire world digitally. We spent several months making the film, and I think I knew on the first day, seeing the actors on location, seeing them in their costumes, that this was going to turn out well.
DG: Besides the film’s box office performance, how do you hope that people will respond to this film?
JK: I want people to react to this film the same way I did when I was a kid and saw so many films that made a big impression on me. I want this to be the kind of film that today’s kids will remember, years later, when they look back at the films they grew up with.