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Welcome to the Jungle (2007)

Dimension Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/13/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/7/2007

If you were to ask me which Hollywood player is the most likely candidate to do a remake of the 1980 cult-classic Cannibal Holocaust my immediate answer, without hesitation would have been Eli Roth. Judging from the featurettes on the Hostel Part II DVD, all of his clothing advertises his love for that film. But, I would have been wrong. The cannibal film throwback Welcome to the Jungle comes to us from Armageddon screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh and famed producer Gale Anne Hurd. Is the world ready for a resurgence of the cannibal film trend which came from Italy 30 years ago?

Welcome to the Jungle opens in Fiji, where we meet Mandi (Sandy Gardiner), who is reunited with her old friend, Bijou (Veronica Sywak), for a vacation. They soon meet Colby (Callard Harris) and Mikey (Nick Richey) and the foursome pair off. Colby begins talking about the story of American heir Michael Rockefeller who disappeared in New Guinea in 1961. There has been a recent report of a pilot spotting an old Caucasian man in an area of New Guinea where they are no white people. The group decides that they should travel to New Guinea and attend to find Rockefeller, as this discovery would make them rich. They gather their supplies and take a boat to New Guinea. Upon arrival, they rent a van and drive as far into the jungle as possible, where they then begin to travel on foot. Once in the jungle, tempers flare and the group begins to splinter. But, that is the least of their worries as a group of natives starts to follow the group.

Earlier, I referred to Welcome to the Jungle as a remake of Cannibal Holocaust. This isnít entirely true, as the stories only bear a passing resemblance, but itís certainly more than a homage. And one canít discount the fact that the movie also owes a great deal to The Blair Witch Project. The entire movie is shot with hand-held video cameras, and the group enters the jungle (which replaces the forest from Blair Witch) in order to track down a local legend. Just as in Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, we arenít watching a ďmovieĒ we are watching the ďfound footageĒ taken from the two video cameras which the group had with them. (Of course, as with any movie from this sub-genre, the viewer must accept the fact that the characters have the time and inclination to videotape their every move.) Welcome to the Jungle even goes as far as doing itís own riff on the most infamous image from Cannibal Holocaust. (Those familiar with the film will know exactly what Iím talking about.)

So, the question arises: Why make this movie? On the DVDís audio commentary, writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh admits that the movie is influenced by Cannibal Holocaust and he states that he felt that it was a good time to make a cannibal film. OK, fair enough. Movies such as Cannibal Holocaust and itís contemporaries Cannibal Ferox (AKA Make Them Die Slowly) and Jungle Holocaust among others were popular for their exploitative natures. They were filled with incredibly graphic violence and most contained loads of gratuitous nudity. Welcome to the Jungle does contain a small amount of violence (especially considering that this is the ďunratedĒ version), but nothing which compares to that found in Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox. And thereís only a fleeting glance of nudity here.

Putting aside the fact that Welcome to the Jungle is fairly mild when compared to the movies itís based on, the movie itself is fairly weak. Hensleigh uses the hand-held cinema verite approach to attempt to create some tension, and at times, he succeeds, especially in early scenes where the travelers encounter potentially violent locals in the civilized parts of New Guinea. The movie also does a good job of getting the viewers attention by introducing the idea of the search for Rockefeller. But, once the group reaches New Guinea, the movie really drags. The characters arenít all that likable to begin with, but once they begin squabbling the viewers affection for them really wanes. And we are then subjected to a great portion of the film where this group wanders through the jungle arguing. Any tension created in the filmís first act quickly diminishes here. Thus, once their lives are threatened by the cannibalistic natives, itís difficult to care. When the violence does come, itís very quick, but not all that shocking. And the final shot was very derivative of Blair Witch...I think.

I donít know, maybe Iím biased, but as someone who was underwhelmed by Cannibal Holocaust and hated The Blair Witch Project, Welcome to the Jungle did nothing for me. The movie is so like those two famous horror films (right down to the scenes where we see only darkness and can only hear the actors, a la Blair Witch) that itís difficult to take it seriously at times. I must say that I wasnít very familiar with the Michael Rockefeller case, so that was interesting, and the movie makes great use of the locations in Fiji, but fans of old school Italian cannibal films will find this boring, and everyone else will think that itís Blair Witch in the jungle.

Welcome to the Jungle attempts to eat DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie was shot on a 24p mini DV camera. The image is very sharp and clear at times, showing no grain or defects from the source material. Due to the verite style, other shots are dark and sometimes blurry. Any sudden movement often results in artifacting or video noise. The colors look fine, but the night-time scenes are often quite dark...especially those where we canít see a thing. The video isnít perfect, but with this movie, it wasnít meant to be. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Again, going with the filmís style, the track is somewhat muffled at times. We do get some good stereo and surround effects from the noises in the jungle settings.

The DVD contains a few extra features. Writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh provides an AUDIO COMMENTARY. This is a very good commentary, as Hensleigh gives us a great deal of information about shooting the movie in Fiji and in his own house. He is very frank when talking about the debt that the movie owes to more famous films and heís quick to point out the shortcomings of the movie. Itís nice that he is so open, because we get little from the next extra.  "Into the Wild: The Making of Welcome to the Jungle" (15 minutes) features on-location footage and comments from the cast and filmmakers. We learn that the movie was shot in Fiji and that a lot of the situations seem to have been made up on the spot. There is also a look at the special-effects make-up. But, this piece never goes into why the movie was made or from whence the story came. There is one DELETED SCENE which runs about 2 minutes and can be viewed with commentary by Hensleigh. It involves on-camera interviews with the characters so that we can get to know them. The last extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER, which is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and is 16 x 9.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long