THE JUNGLE BOOK
This version is an extraordinarily sumptuous production. The jungles of the Exotic East have never looked more beautiful, Colonial India has never seemed more majestic and the animals (many of which are animatronic figures indistinguishable from the real thing) never more stunningly real. It is a vision of India that is more beautiful than the real one could ever have been some of the Indian-shot natural vistas across the jungle and night valleys have been dressed with visual effects to make them even more exquisite. Stephen Sommers directs with a genuine sense of adventure. The journey to the lost city that takes up the last quarter of the film has an exciting, magnificently sustained tension in the best tradition of the Indiana Jones films. The lost city with its decayed ruins, its death traps, its opulent treasures, giant snakes and hosts of CGI monkeys running about is surely the ultimate Lost City conducted to film.
Stephen Sommers has great aid in the person of Jason Scott Lee. (The Hawaiian-born Lee is an actor of extraordinarily fluid nationality, having been cast as everything from Chinese to Polynesian to, here, an Indian). He is a wonderfully quick and alert actor on screen, his best expression usually being one of complete surprise. He creates a great audience rapport, not to mention being amazingly lithe and well-muscled. There is a great deal of fun to watching his animal impersonations.
Where the film falters is in the predictability of its story. It tells essentially the same story as the Korda version but brings the British Colonial theme to the foreground. However, everything from the love interest to the lost city to the arrogant military officer is played predictably. The greatest crime for Rudyard Kipling purists is that the animals are pushed to the background and crucially do not get to speak. Mowgli fails to even get a climactic fight with Shere Khan, Shere Khan just bows down and anti-climactically acknowledges him as the King of the Jungle. The Law of the Jungle has now become a nebulous contemporary metaphor for eco-consciousness. If anything the story, with its emphasis on the choice between Mowglis half-man, half-animal nature, has become closer to Tarzan than to the Rudyard Kiplings stories.
The Jungle Book was a modest success and spawned two spinoffs a theatrical sequel The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo (1997) and a tv movie The Jungle Book: Mowglis Story (1998). The Jungle Book (2016) is a further live-action remake.
Director Stephen Sommers premiered with the high-school comedy Catch Me If You Can (1989) (no relation to the Spielberg film). Following The Jungle Book, he went onto make Deep Rising (1998), The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001), Van Helsing (2004), G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra (2009) and Odd Thomas (2013). Sommers has also produced The Scorpion King (2002), The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior (2008), The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) and The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power/The Scorpion King: The Lost Throne (2015).
(Winner for Best Cinematography, Nominee for Best Musical Score at this sites Best of 1994 Awards).