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New Escapist Column! On the Pandemic’s Failed Streaming Revolution…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With disappointing box office for Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, and pending lawsuits from actors like Scarlet Johansson, it seemed like a good time to dive back into the ongoing debate about streaming during the pandemic.

With cinemas closed and audiences trapped at home, the pandemic was the perfect testcase for the viability of streaming as a sustainable long-term business model for major Hollywood studios. Many of these studios had been pushing for something like this for decades, to effectively vertically integrate production and delivery. However, with a year of experimentation in the rear view mirror, it increasingly seems like the streaming revolution promised by the pandemic is a bit of a dud.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the “Jungle Cruise” and the Journey Into the Uncanny Valley…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Jungle Cruise this week, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt vehicle.

It isn’t particularly surprising that Jungle Cruise takes place in an unreal environment. After all, this is a feature film based on a theme park ride. However, it is striking how completely and how eagerly it rejects anything resembling reality. Jungle Cruise draws openly from films like The Mummy, The African Queen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, globe-trotting adventures that blend special effects with beautiful location work. In contrast, Jungle Cruise unfolds entirely within the hard drive of a computer.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! “Jungle Cruise – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Jungle Cruise, which is releasing theatrically and on Disney+ Premiere Access this weekend.

Non-Review Review: Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise is a throwback to a throwback to a throwback.

Jungle Cruise is inspired by the eponymous theme park ride, a surprisingly common occurrence in the age of intellectual-property-derived blockbusters, and an approach that has led to films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and The Haunted Mansion. However, because even narrative-driven theme park rides don’t necessarily provide enough story to sustain a feature-length film, Jungle Cruise positions itself as a very deliberate homage to movies like The Mummy, and traces that lineage back to classic eighties adventures like King Solomon’s Mines, Romancing the Stone and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Cruise Control.

There’s an undeniable charm in this. After all, that adventure movie template can trace its roots back to movies like The African Queen and even into classic screwball comedies. It is a narrative framework that lends itself to charismatic movie star performances, and so it makes sense that Jungle Cruise features two genuinely engaging movie stars at its core: Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Jungle Cruise is at its strongest when it is willing to trust its leads to do what they do best, to be fun and charming while having exotic adventures together.

Unfortunately, Jungle Cruise feels too beholden to the conventions of modern blockbuster storytelling to lean into its stronger elements. Instead, those aspects of the films are constantly at war with the demands and the limitations of a modern spectacle-driven blockbuster. At times, Jungle Cruise feels more like a faded map promising a path to precious treasure. The broad outline is clear, but the richer detail has been lost to time.

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