Release Date(s)2021 (November 16, 2021)
Studio(s)Davis Entertainment/Seven Bucks/Flynn Picture Company/Walt Disney Pictures (Disney)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C
Jungle Cruise is Disney’s latest attempt at adapting one of their world-famous theme park attractions into a motion picture. Much success was previously had with the Pirates and the Caribbean series, and bringing on a director like Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, The Shallows) with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the lead, it seems like a nice recipe for something enjoyable. Unfortunately, Jungle Cruise was released during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, it didn’t earn nearly the amount of income that it probably could have had more folks been going to the theaters. That said, with a film like this, who knows what the real potential could have been?
In the early twentieth century, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) set out to find a boat captain who will take them down the Amazon River to the location of the mythic Tree of Crystal Tears. The tree’s flower petals, called Tears of the Moon, are said to have remarkable healing and regenerative powers. Lily and MacGregor hope to find this tree and use its petals to revolutionize modern medicine. Upon their arrival, they discover the swarthy but charming Frank (Dwaye Johnson), a skipper with a pet jaguar named Proxima by his side who gives boat rides to tourists, owing harbormaster Nilo (Paul Giamatti) a considerable amount of money. Frank reluctantly agrees to escort them down the river, leaving quickly when a German U-boat arrives captained by the half-crazed Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who will stop at nothing to get to the tree first for his own personal gain. As Lily, Frank, and MacGregor make their way through many dangers, ancient cursed Spanish conquistadors are awakened as well. But as a possible romance blossoms between Frank and Lily, their chances of survival and finding the tree are nil. However, Frank has secrets of his own, all of which will surface before journey’s end.
Sadly, Jungle Cruise leaps boat-first into mediocrity for the majority of its running time. Though great care was taken to offer a mix of practical and visual effects with old-fashioned action sequences and adventure tropes with a love story at the center ala Indiana Jones (and nearly every adventure film set in a jungle that came afterwards), the elements don’t blend that well. It mostly feels like a big budget CGI spectacle straight out of the late 1990s and early 2000s, bringing along a lot of the same problems that those types of films usually had, including tonal shifts, out-of-character actions, and childish humor. Johnson and Blunt have decent chemistry, but the script doesn’t serve them well. The action scenes themselves are well-staged, but poorly-edited. Everything is cut so quickly that we spend very little time on individual moments to make those scenes interesting or exciting. As such, the film’s pace is thrown off severely.
Outside of the quick cutting and tonal issues, Jungle Cruise is certainly nice to look at. Whether it’s the many vistas seen traveling down the Amazon River, night scenes with colorful tribal costumes and tattoos, or the finale with the glowing pink petals of the Tree of Crystal Tears, the visuals are very appealing. The film is also not afraid to show its teeth occasionally, going dark at times with heavy material and individual gritty moments sprinkled throughout. The best thing about the film is, of course, Dwayne Johnson, who’s a charm factory and the chief reason to see just about any film that he stars in. Unfortunately, everything surrounding him is mostly questionable. Emily Blunt is fairly two dimensional for the majority of the running time, upstaged in character growth by her brother MacGregor, who is given far more dimension than most sidekicks of his ilk. Matters are not helped by Jesse Plemons, who is extremely off-putting and gut-wrenchingly awful in every scene that he’s in.
So was the trip to the Amazon jungle worth it for Jungle Cruise? I suppose it depends on your tolerance level for a mediocre script executed only partially well. There are individual moments that really shine, and most people are going to take a strong liking to the well-realized CGI creation of Proxima. The ideas and the various elements could be potentially fun in an adventure serial sort of way, but they don’t jibe as one, leaving one feeling unsatisfied in the end.
Jungle Cruise was captured digitally by cinematographer Flavio Labano in the ARRIRAW codec, with Arri Alexa Mini and SXT cameras and Panavision C-Series lenses, and was completed as a 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 scope aspect ratio. Disney’s Ultra HD presentation of the film is sourced from this DI with color grading for high dynamic range (HDR10 is the only available option). The nuances found within its jungle settings are thankfully captured well. Deep shadows, particularly during dusk and morning scenes, reveal the textures and colors of the trees and flowing waters. But though animated well, CGI additions—among them jumping fish, dragonflies, and snakes—stick out like a sore thumb, never reaching a level of photorealism (try as they might). Contrast is largely balanced well, but while the HDR pass enhances the colors in brighter scenes, the darker moments suffer. The nighttime scenes in the latter half of the film are way too dark, whether by design or due to the aggressive HDR grade. Elsewhere, a golden haze permeates most of the film, dialing back skin tones to make them appear more warm. The hues of MacGregor and Joachim’s costumes, as well as the tribal tattoos and headdresses, pop off the screen with bold swatches of red and green. The image never appears noisy, but it’s a tad less detail-oriented than most newer films captured digitally. As such, it can ocassionally appear flat, unappealing, and just a tad too clean looking.
The audio is included in English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish & Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Optional subtitles include English SDH, French, Spanish, and Japanese. Disney’s Atmos tracks are almost always restrained and require a volume adjustment, but in the case of Jungle Cruise, they must have taken that criticism to heart. Dialogue is considerably louder than usual, and the track as a whole has far more life to it than one might expect. Atmospherics in the surround and overhead speakers give the Amazon jungle a vastness, while the multiple sweeping and darting effects during the action scenes keep the story’s momentum high. The score, including an odd re-use of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters, comes to life rather brilliantly. Low end moments, including explosions and the various boat-based action set pieces, will definitely rattle the windows. The overall track is still not quite on par with other Atmos tracks of modern films outside of the hallowed walls of Disney, but it’s a great step in the right direction towards improvement.
Disney’s Ultra HD of Jungle Cruise comes housed in a black amaray case with a Blu-ray of the film in 1080p, a Digital code on a paper insert within the package, and a slipcover to house everything in. Though labeled as an Ultimate Collector’s Edition, the bonus materials are sparse and can only be found on the accompanying Blu-ray:
- It’s a Jungle Out There: The Making of Jungle Cruise (12:58)
- Dwayne and Emily: Undoubtedly Funny (5:10)
- Creating the Amazon (15:14)
- Once a Skip, Always a Skip (14:00)
- Deleted Scene: MacGregor Drives the Boat (:49)
- Deleted Scene: MacGregor Water Skis (1:22)
- Deleted Scene: Joachim and Nilo on the Dock (2:29)
- Deleted Scene: Frank Talks to Proxima & Lily’s Nightmares (1:11)
- Deleted Scene: Sub Gets Stuck (1:22)
- Deleted Scene: Proxima Surprises MacGregor (1:28)
- Deleted Scene: Frank Gets the Cold Shoulder (1:53)
- Deleted Scene: Trader Sam and Lily Walk the Jungle (:36)
- Deleted Scene: MacGregor and Trader Sam Say Goodbye (:47)
- Deleted Scene: Frank Makes Tea for Lily (1:42)
- Deleted Scene: The Backside of Water (1:31)
- Outtakes (2:25)
The extras are brief, running just over 60 minutes, but they do offer a decent amount of insight into the creation of the film. It’s a Jungle Out There is a sort of nuts and bolts look at the making of the film with members of the cast and crew. A few outtakes can be found along the way as well. In Dwayne and Emily, the two actors discuss their working relationship and their characters. Creating the Amazon delves into the conceptual design, visual effects, and practical effects of the film’s boat and Amazon setting. Once a Skip, Always a Skip talks to current and former skippers of the actual Jungle Cruise attraction at Disney parks from around the world. The Deleted Scenes offer a few extra bits of trimmed moments, a couple of which the film could have used, including more personal moments between Frank and Lily, but not much was excised that was necessary to the final cut. And finally, the Outtakes are a series of blown takes.
It may be that I’m being a bit too hard on Jungle Cruise... or maybe not. Some viewers here will find that the sum is greater than the individual parts, but for me there are too many issues that could easily have been addressed and improved upon to make the experience a little more solid. As it is, this is a troubled film with too much exposition, uneven pacing, action scenes that are cut too quickly, unappealing and obnoxious villains, and not nearly enough character development. The film skates by on the charm of its leading man, but Jungle Cruise could have been so much better.
- Tim Salmons