Welcome to the Jungle Review
The Rock didn’t have a perfect start in movies, his screen time in The Mummy Returns was largely computer generated, and badly at that (a fact even director Stephen Sommers now admits) so although he got a lot of press, it was for all the wrong reasons. Even after he got his own spin-off movie, with a sizable box office take to its name, it didn’t look like there was much of a future in movies for The Rock. But two years off seem to have done wonders for his movie career, as this is the first in what looks like a long line of movies trying to set The Rock up as the new Arnie.
Beck (The Rock) is a retrieval expert, working for a rather nasty gangster. Well working for isn’t quite right, more working off a debt, at whatever arbitrary rate his employer decides is suitable. All he wants is to be free of his debt, and open his own restaurant, 10, 15 tables, nothing fancy, and that dream might be about to come true as he’s offered one last job to wipe the slate clean. His mark is Travis Walker (Seann William Scott), an Indiana Jones wannabe with neither the education nor the accomplishments under his belt that Dr. Jones does. One thing he has managed to do though, is annoy the wrong people, and Travis needs to return to America to make amends for his indiscretions.
There is a slight problem with the retrieval though, Travis claims to have found the location of El Gato Diablo, a priceless artefact of solid gold, not that Travis wanting it is any problem for Beck, but unfortunately Travis isn’t the only interested party. Hatcher (Christopher Walken) is the owner of the local gold mine, he’s got all the power in this part of the world, all the men, all the weapons, and all the locals working for pennies to make him richer. The Gato is a mythical artefact for the local people, and Hatcher fears a revolt if they get their hands on the icon that is prophesised to be the answer to their prayers. So Hatcher is rather eager for Travis to lead him to the Gato, and Travis is rather eager to have it all to himself, it doesn’t look like Beck is going to fit into the jungle way of life very well.
I have to admit I didn’t go into Welcome to the Jungle with very high hopes, I’m not a fan of The Rock’s wrestling persona, and Seann William Scott has had a problem slipping out of the shadow of American Pie’s Stifler, mostly because he doesn’t seem to be trying to do anything differently. The one glimmer of hope was Peter Berg, who was behind Very Bad Things, but he isn’t exactly a prolific director, was that success a one off? Well I guess the answer to that depends on how you judge a good film, because Welcome to the Jungle is a rather peculiar beast, it manages to combine a clichéd, often cringe-worthy script, some ropey computer graphics and some scenery chewing acting to produce a film that is far more entertaining than it has any right to be.
The beginning doesn’t bode well, whilst the action is very nicely choreographed, watching The Rock lay waste to an entire American football offensive line single handed in the course of a debt collecting duty leaves a distinctly unbelievable taste in your mouth, and you’ll feel as if you’ve been thrown back into an ’80s Arnie movie. In fact it’s pretty clear that somebody wants The Rock to be the new Arnie, and in a fine comic touch they pass on the way to The Rock’s opening fight, with Arnie wishing him luck, as if passing approval on his action movie successor. But this opening is the about only time you’ll see Beck take charge, as the rest of the movie sees him take a real battering – a refreshing change for an action hero. The finest example of this has Beck facing a gang of rebels, and being beaten within an inch of his life by Ernie Reyes Jr. – who was one of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – in a fantastic display or acrobatic martial arts. The scene is slightly marred by some obvious wire-work but is still one of the most impressive and inventive scenes I’ve seen in a western film lately.
Another surprise the film has up its sleeve is The Rock’s sense of humour, I’ve long thought of him as a man that takes himself much, much to seriously, but it seems he’s a better actor than I’ve given him credit for as he leaves his pretentious wrestling persona behind and pokes fun at himself quite liberally. After all anyone that is happy to be helplessly strung up and have a screaming monkey hump his face can’t be that pretentious. It’s a good thing he does manage to raise so many laughs though, because Seann William Scott is somewhat of a letdown as a sidekick. It seems he is happy to add Welcome to the Jungle to Stifler’s already extensive résumé, and leaves me wondering once again when he’ll actually start acting. That said, when you’re starring opposite Christopher Walken maybe it’s difficult to be inspired to be different, after all he’s been Christopher Walken in dozens of movies over the years to much acclaim, he’s certainly an actor from the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ school. When he starts into his monologue comparing Beck and Travis to the Tooth Fairy it’s instantly classic Walken, there isn’t anyone else on the planet that could get away with it, but I guess that’s Walken’s charm.
The script however, seems to give only Walken anything to play with, or maybe it’s just that he is the only one that can make the ham-fisted dialogue fly. There’s a strange kind of moralising to it; Hatcher’s gold mine is evil, guns are bad, and so forth. The problem is it seems the writers weren’t entirely sure of their stance on these things, as Hatcher puts forward some very good arguments for his evil empire’s tactics, and even though Beck hates guns, really, really hates them and would never ever use them, come the finale he’s throwing two pump action shotguns around like they’re his best friends. Really though, b this juncture anyone who cares about such blatantly idiotic plot turns would have turned the film off long ago.
Ultimately when the credits roll, Welcome to the Jungle will probably leave you with a smile on your face, though the only thought going through your mind will probably be ‘Why did I enjoy that so damn much?’
The anamorphic 2.35:1 picture is very good, although I did find it a little heavy on the contrast, making some of the Amazonian night scenes harder to watch than they should be, but there are actually very few of those, and other than that the transfer is pin sharp. Though that brings up the old problem of an excellent picture showing off all to well the seams in the special effects, but I guess you just can’t have it all.
The soundtrack here, although Dolby Digital 5.1, seems to be lacking something in the .1 stakes. The gunfights lack a certain punch, and even the explosions seemed rather weak, but strangely the scene in the club at the start of the film had no such problems. Whether this is a fault, a stylistic choice, or even a by-product of trying to get a lower rating (the film was cut theatrically to get a 12A but is uncut here) I can’t say, but it leaves an otherwise energetic track feeling unsatisfying.
Commentary from Director Peter Berg and The Rock
Right from the start it’s clear that these guys are here to have fun, informing us that the movie was shot entirely on location on a small island off the coast of New Jersey, it’s a constantly entertaining track, even if it is sometimes difficult to tell when they’re conveying funny anecdotes of just making things up, for instance, was The Rock really involved in an underground shootfighting tournament before he was famous? There are many moments you ust can’t tell if they’re being serious, but they’re often being very funny.
Commentary from producers Mark Abraham and Kevin Misher
This is a much more sedate commentary, it’s not really funny, but at least you know you can believe what you’re hearing. Starting off pointing out an in-joke that was probably obvious to everyone, but hadn’t dawned on me, that Beck’s ambitions of being a chef were a reference to his wrestling catch-phrase ‘Can you smell what The Rock is cooking’ it’s a reasonably entertaining track, but as it goes on the silences become longer and after about an hour you’ll spend more time listening to the film than the commentators.
Rumble in the Jungle
You have to admire the editing here, whilst this featurette runs for only 10 minutes there is a remarkable amount of backslapping thrown in, especially from Peter Berg. Luckily the usual talking heads format is mostly ignored and we get to see a lot of behind the scenes footage, which is full of The Rock goofing around and showing off, so this manages to be quite entertaining.
The Amazon, Hawaii Style
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to shoot in Brazil, not least because after five minutes of prep work in the jungle Peter Berg was robbed blind and left to walk home. Strangely after that the idea to shoot somewhere else arose, and it seems The Rock had some influence in taking the shoot to his home of Hawaii. Everyone talks about the pleasures of the Hawaiian rainforests, it seems they’d like to talk about the dangers, but there aren’t any. No spiders, no snakes, no irritating insect bites, it’s bizarrely idyllic, and makes you want to book a holiday!
Appetite for Destruction
Ahhh every good action movie has one, a behind the scenes look at blowing things up! Whilst the bus explosion is impressive, and the water tank collapse good fun, what makes this featurette unusual is watching 350 cows trampling over the set, and it’s also funny to watch The Rock try and not look scared by them, before nervously retreating.
The Rundown Uncensored: A Rock-umentary
It seems nobody could be bothered to change the title (The Rundown was the American title) for this rather odd tongue in cheek documentary. As the movies animal trainer introduces us to the strange love affair between The Rock and Camilla the baboon. The whole crew has got on board for this, including The Rock, as we see the romance blossom between the two of them, it’s kinda sweet in sick, sick way, but is rather funny too. That’s if it really is a joke…
Running Down the Town
The town surrounding Christopher Walken’s gold mine was created entirely from scratch in the LA dessert, and it’s incredibly impressive. It’s mammoth scale makes it a more than worthy subject for this featurette. It’s too brief, at less than five minutes, but contains some interesting snippets, including the conditions the crew had to comply with for clean up in order to get the site, it sounds like they really did leave it in a better state than when they found it.
Sadly not a TV show broadcast from Christopher Walken's parent's basement, instead this look at the movie’s bad guy Hatcher, and everyone gets to give their opinion on him, but they’re more enthusiastic to talk about how fantastic Christopher Walken is, but at least for once the subject of the praise is worthy.
Nine deleted scenes adorn the disc, all are unnecessary, but most are still entertaining, although the first three are only short extensions. The highlight is the seventh, which sees Travis fighting Hatcher’s main henchman Harvey in a scene cut from the movies finale. It is a long scene, and I imagine it was cut to maintain the pace but it’s a good scene and well worth including here, though I’m glad they removed the painfully obvious alternate ending that set the film up for a sequel.
The disc carries trailers for Welcome to the Jungle, Big Fish, Gothika, Spiderman 2, S.W.A.T. and The Missing.
There is also a small Easter egg on the main menu, accessed by pressing right when the special features button is highlighted, detailing the way Beck’s special POV shots were constructed, and is much better than the usual ‘quirky’ Easter eggs on most discs.
Welcome to the Jungle is great Saturday night entertainment, which stands up surprisingly well to repeat viewing. There are some nice comedy moments, and some fantastic action set pieces, but it’s certainly not a film to be taken seriously. At all. The DVD is technically good enough, but never manages to be outstanding, but the quantity of features make it a good value purchase.
Last updated: 25/06/2018 01:28:40