Wednesday, December 13, 2017

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - JUNGLE

‘Blu-ray or Bust’
JUNGLE (2017, R, 115 minutes, Babber Films / Cutting Edge Group / Screen Australia)

This one was a mixed bag for me.  I wanted to enjoy the misery of one man’s struggle put to screen but I was distracted by the inconsistencies and poor tension builders.

JUNGLE is about Yossi Ghinsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe (THE… Harry Potter), who finds himself lost in… wait for it… the jungle.  Based on a true story, Yossi left Israel in search of adventure, which eventually led him to embracing the backpack life, thus the wilds of Bolivia answered the call.  He meets a charismatic shyster who enticed him and two newly-made friends to travel out into the mostly unexplored region that has a lost tribe hidden away.  Once beyond ‘civilization’, they become derailed from the plan and the lost become more lost, for our backpackers.

Although not having spent time in a jungle, I learned how to survive in one during my time in the military.  This was beyond the normal training everyone gets, but much of it boils down to common sense.  The first lesson, above all else, was realizing all the dangers a jungle offers and learn what to do to prevent an untimely death.  Animals, bugs, infection… so many things to worry about, really.  So, when someone who wants to head deep into one of the most dangerous environments, they quickly start studying the top issues they will run into even if they are a ‘regular joe’. 

As for the most glaring problem I had, and they quickly encountered it, was jungle rot, also known as trench foot.  This happens when your feet are wet for long periods of time and not allowed to dry properly.  This can be easily managed with letting them dry during your breaks and at night… even if you are without foot powder, you can take preventive measures.  So, how was it they were so surprised and unprepared for this…?  With that, four supposed adventures who were there for that purpose, this including the guide who has been out a number of times, how does this happen?  Then, after one person gets it, you would think they would be on their ‘toes’ about proper care.  Hmmm...  Even if these were the actual events, you question the authenticity to hope they weren’t that ignorant of the jungle’s hazards.

Beyond that and some other questionable choices, the film has its moments.  There were brief moments of character development and a real sense of isolation while in the jungle.  The scenery was typical, which I was more appreciative to being true to the setting, rather than glamourizing special sites for shooting scenes.  Director Greg McLean (of THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, WOLF CREEK) proved he has some grit as they filmed in rough locations and brought together some interesting moments, not taking the easy way out.  The failings on his part were highlighting what anyone would deal with when hiking with people, like a branch slap from the person in front of you to wake you up.  Also, I hate how directors feel the need for a montage of jungle critters to show what lives hidden beyond the leaves.

The Special Features included a “Becoming Yossi Featurette”, the usual ‘making of’, and a collection of cast and crew interviews.  The highlight was how everyone remarked on Radcliffe’s work ethic and dedication to the role.  One aspect was how he lost fourteen pounds to show the emaciation Yossi suffered from the ordeal.  Starting with a slight frame at the start, that had to be tough.

As a final product, I can see why this project was greenlit.  There was enough potential this could have been an Oscar run if written properly.  I can also see why it struggled to make waves in the current blockbuster climate.  The call is yours, but the Blu-ray’s offering of visual and aural stimulation provides little to overshadow the deficiencies with the story.

Film Grade: B-
Special Features: B-
Blu-ray Necessary: Not a must

-- James S. Austin

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