In the modern era of pop culture, we happen to be obsessed with the notion of a zombie apocalypse. The concept of the undead terrorizing people has been something that has gripped human legend for ages but only recently have we associated zombies with our impending doom on a global scale. With shows like The Walking Dead, video games like Left4Dead, and films like I Am Legend, World War Z, and the Resident Evil series, zombies have become a cultural phenomenon.
Personally though, I’m starting to get a sense that the whole zombie thing is a little passé. Everyone and their grandmother have strategies for what sometimes feels inevitable to people. I’ve had friends tell me exactly where they would go, what they would do, what weapons they would use and who they would save if the zombies came attacking. As a nation, we are probably more prepared for the zombie apocalypse than realistic concerns like nuclear war or even global warming. Something about that takes the element of fear away from me.
And to be honest with you, I’m a little bored of zombies so I started thinking of other things that might scare me, and than it came to me, JUMANJI! Yes, the 1995 children’s movie staring Robin Williams about a supernatural board game that causes jungle animals to materialize and cause terror on its players. Come to think of it, a Jumanji like scenario scares me more than the “impending” zombie apocalypse and here’s five reasons why.
1. Animals with more intelligence are scarier than half-dead people with less intelligence.
Zombies seem to lose most of their intelligence upon infection or whatever makes them zombies (depending on the source material). Their instincts almost become animalistic and largely unfocused. The animals (and plants for that matter) in Jumanji on the other hand are much more intelligent than animals in reality. They seem to have a purpose and personality, a singular vision for making your life a living hell and/or killing you. Yes, sometimes zombies appear to be able to strategize but upon further examination, the jungle animals of Jumanji are capable of that as well. When comparing the two, I’d probably put the animals in Jumanji at a slightly higher intelligence clip than zombies, however even if their brain activity and motivation is considered equal, what scares you more; a human being who wants to kill you with their bare hands and teeth or a lion who wants to kill you with their claws and fangs? Think about it.
2. In a zombie apocalypse like situation, there are no rules. In Jumanji, following the rules are an important part of the “game”.
During a zombie apocalypse like scenario, all bets are off when it comes to the manner in which you dispose of your foes, the zombies. You pretty much can and should do whatever you need to survive. You can try escaping, sticking and moving, or just take the undead head on in a fight. The choice is yours. There is no cheating, just survival. Even the laws of the civilized world don’t hold much weight. In Jumanji on the other hand, the rules are important, as it is a board game that must be completed for the horror to end. Instead of crafting your own strategies, in Jumanji you have to play along with the madness. Oh and who can forget what happens when you try to cheat and play by your own rules? The little boy in the film turns into a monkey, which was the animal on his token. What if you tried to cheat and you were playing with the elephant token? That would be pretty uncomfortable and make surviving awfully hard. I’ll take a situation where destiny, no matter how bleak, is in my hands, rather than the hands of whatever sadist conceived the sick and twisted rules of Jumanji.
3. In Jumanji, there is an intelligent hunter targeting you with intent to kill.
In most zombie fiction, human beings work together and rise up to try to defeat the zombie uprising. While yes, people like the Governor in The Walking Dead can throw a screwball in the idea in human unity, rarely is there one person who is trained in not only marksmanship but witty accented banter targeting you and you alone. In Jumanji, this is possible as the hunter character released by the board game, Van Pelt, targets the Robin Williams character with determination and skill ala Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game. Perhaps the scariest aspect of the situation is that the hunter looks and acts to a degree just like Robin William’s onscreen father. Confronting my father is a fear I still haven’t been able to overcome. The idea of him as a single minded big game hunter out to get me sends shivers down my spine. I know, this type of situation can theoretically happen in a zombie apocalypse scenario but with the same kind of callous and invocation of such deeply personal emotions? I think not.
4. The horror doesn’t end till the game ends.
Now the implication of an apocalypse whether it be zombie or in another form implies the end of the world. Perhaps this term is used too loosely. If the world was coming to an end, than why bother trying? As human being, we have hope so no matter what literature the zombie apocalypse in your mind comes from, it usually involves people surviving and either conquering the zombies, learning to cope with the zombies, or living away from the zombies. The bottom line is, the conflict comes to some kind of end. In Jumanji, the conflict usually comes to an end as well, but only after finishing the game. This could take perhaps a casual Friday afternoon or twenty six years like the film, maybe even longer. No matter what you do to survive, it doesn’t matter. There is no strategy, there is only finishing the game. I’ve played plenty a game of Risk that I didn’t end up finishing. I suppose in Jumanji you would be very motivated to finish but again, the idea of not being in control of ones destiny scares me. Let’s hope you picked a smart bunch of friends to play with if you happen to discover the board and role the dice.
5. The supernatural always beats the natural.
The modern obsession of a zombie apocalypse is based largely on reality. In previous eras on zombie fiction, the undead were made that way by spells, curses, or even the devil himself (or herself, sometimes I am more convinced it’s a her but that’s another story). Today however, zombies are mostly created through natural means by some out of control disease or genetic mutation. Maybe this is what scares a lot of us about zombies, the fact that there is a (slight) chance that it could happen. With that being said, most of Jumanji is rooted in the ideas of magic and the supernatural. It’s impossible to use logic against magic as the supernatural seems to dictate everything that happens in Jumanji. Once again, it is out of our hands and thus, subject to the rules of whatever the role of the dice dictates. Just like Santa Claus fitting in those tiny chimneys and being impervious to fire, the supernatural always conquers the natural. The only chance you have is playing by their rules.
Yes, I admit that a zombie apocalypse is pretty scary but the next time you are watching a The Walking Dead, be thankful that you don’t hear a distant tribal drum beat and an old wood board game begging you to play it doesn’t appear on your lap. Face it, Jumanji is a pretty scary concept.