Thoughts On... Mowgli

May 21, 2018

I feel like faith had been slowly dwindling in Andy Serkis’ Mowgli for some time now. Never mind the arduously long journey that it's taken to get it to the screen, so lengthy and mired with delays in fact that Serkis managed to squeeze a small independently financed drama out of it in Breathe during the intervening time. As a debut, it didn’t feel like a strong enough stamp in Serkis’ favour as a filmmaker and a storyteller. He’s a brilliant technician and an even better actor, but this feels like it should have been his debut with full support and backing from the studio and internet film journalists who have been following him for years.

 

But its another one of those cases in which two separate studios create similar products that come around every now and then to remind people of the complexities of Hollywood machinery and business practices, and the competitive nature of art in the medium being forced to vie against one another for supremacy. One of them is inevitably going to come out on top in some different aspect.

To wit, 2016’s The Jungle Book from Disney and director Jon Favreau that became a critical and commercial smash at redoing the original animated feature for a new audience with new technology and a different approach to the storytelling. Mowgli (thankfully retitled from its awful working title Jungle Book: Origins), on the other hand, has been forced to react in such a way as to differentiate itself from its predecessor by playing up its apparent faithfulness to the original Rudyard Kipling text, and a significantly darker and more PG-13 approach to the story and its world – enough of which is repeated to absurdum in the attached featurette released today alongside the first trailer and poster.

All this being said, I’m definitely interested. No rule ever states that a specific material can only be examined once in a particular way (at least in regard to cinematic adaptation), and I’m perfectly open to a slightly different approach to the book and these characters and world that we know. Even if the lingering spectre of Favreau’s terrific effort still feels rather recent.

 

Thankfully, this looks like something ready to detach itself from such sentiments from both a minimalist (if slightly foreseeable) marketing campaign playing up its more singular redefined focus and style, such as with the stark and striking poster undercut with Typically. Evocative. Adjectives.

The style is certainly the driving factor behind this one. Utilising the same photorealistic approach to its digital photography and realisation of the jungle world, it had to differentiate itself in some form and that seems to come directly from the surprisingly angular and humanised character designs. The detail is naturally incredible but the faces are just astonishing. As jarring as it might be to see so much definition of a performance on an animal’s face, it really does look striking to see so much of Christian Bale’s expressions in the face of Bagheera, or the eyes of Benedict Cumberbatch in Shere Khan.

It looks bizarrely unique and alienating but in a way that just might work given the violent and aggressive tone that the trailer is giving off. Much of which plays up these new versions of the characters imagined closer to their book versions, as well as a glimpse of its new narrative threads involving Mowgli's (Rohan Chand) backstory and a possible look at the Central Provinces of India, near Seoni as mentioned in the book.

 

However this turns out will ultimately fall on the acceptance of the audience to shill out for another take on the material so soon after the last adaptation. My guess is that it’ll fall much shorter of box-office expectations. But the cast look and sound great, Serkis finally has a chance to realise this long-gestating passion project and I’m open to seeing how he reinterprets the material.

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