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Eric Eisenberg with his Jumanji stats

As part of my position as Events Editor here at CinemaBlend, I have the pleasure of regularly being totally submerged in the world of movies. Whether I’m interviewing actors and filmmakers, or visiting the sets of films in the midst of production, my job allows me to go deeper into the whole process than most people. That said, I have rarely been more immersed in a single title than I was last week when I went on a special Jumanji: The Next Level-themed adventure.

In promotion of the exciting action film’s release on home video (now available on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital On Demand), I joined a group of reporters on a special trip up the coast of California last week, and in the process got to get a taste of what it would be like to actually exist in the world of Jumanji. There wasn’t exactly any life threatening danger akin to what Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, and Awkwafina’s characters go through in the blockbuster, but instead just a whole lot of fun.

Eric Eisenberg in Void VR Jumanji Reverse The Curse

Stepping Into The Void For Jumanji: Reverse The Curse

Departing from Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California, the first stop on the two-day trip was to The Void in Santa Monica, where we had the chance to personally engage with the idea of leaving our own world behind courtesy of some fantastic virtual reality.

The Void, which has locations in cities around the globe, has featured movie-themed games in the past, including special programs for 2016’s Ghostbusters and Star Wars, but for what should be obvious reasons to those familiar with Jumanji, it created a particularly perfect pairing with the adventure franchise. Working with Sony, they built Jumanji: Reverse The Curse, which is an original story featuring the main characters from the films.

Groups of four were put together, with each player given a vest and helmet to put on before stepping into the game platform. With everyone in proper position, Jumanji: Reverse The Curse began, and my body dissolved into pixels before everything went black. When the screen turned back on, I found myself regrouped with the rest of my party as we all discovered the identity of our avatars – which were randomly selected. Given the opportunity to go through the experience twice, I got to play as both Jack Black’s Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon and Kevin Hart’s Franklin "Mouse" Finbar.

Just like in the Jumanji movies, each avatar has particular strengths and weaknesses. Playing as Shelly, for example, allowed me to read certain messages in the environments that were invisible to other players. As Mouse, I could hear the various animals in the jungle speaking to me – including playful monkeys and crazy hungry crocodiles. Unfortunately, neither of the characters have “strength” as a strength, so I had a tendency to lose lives during the fight sequences.

I will also add that the randomization of the avatars and the necessity for the VR to maintain scale created some unintentional hilarity. In my first go-round with Jumanji: Reverse The Curse, my teammates playing as Mouse and Dr. Xander "Smolder" Bravestone had the opposite height disparity as the actual stars, resulting in me playing with a Kevin Hart avatar approximately a foot taller than the Dwayne Johnson avatar. It was quite a sight to behold.

Going through the setup, I had a blast, and was impressed by the level of detail – from the sprinkle of mist you feel as you walk by a waterfall, to the cool rumble effects you experience during a monkey-piloted plane crash. It was legitimately fun to play the game, which included challenges to collect coins, and navigate hazardous terrain surrounded by dangerous animals, and it’s definitely an effective way to get deeper inside the world of Jumanji.

But that was just the start.

Eric Eisenberg feeding an ostrich

Hanging Out With Some Ostriches

In Jumanji: The Next Level, ostriches are introduced to the plot as being seriously bad news. They are not only aggressive birds, but also impressively strong – and what makes matters even worse for the heroes is learning that they run in herds. Their arrival in the film is paired with one of the best and most memorable action sequences in the blockbuster, which is why it was perfectly fitting that our second stop on the themed trip was to a place called Ostrichland USA in Solvang, California.

An hour-and-a-half-long bus ride from Santa Monica delivered us to the active ostrich farm, which is open purely as a tourist attraction where anybody who pays for admission can hang out with the flightless birds (in addition to ostriches, they also have emus on the site). Trays of food were made available so that we could feed the animals, standing either outside their pens or inside, and it was a wild experience to reach out and watch them peck and bob their heads to throw pellets down their throats.

I will admit that being next to an ostrich is a touch unnerving, as they stand between eight and nine feet tall, weigh up to 350 pounds, and famously have a kick that can easily kill a person. For our own safety, we were told to demonstrate a bit of caution around them – but ultimately they were definitely far more fascinating than threatening. They not only demonstrated a kind of majesty running around in herds (more than a few people made Jurassic Park references), but we also learned some surprising trivia, including the fact that they produce eggs every other day during their breeding season.

Through the visit we all took on certain Franklin "Mouse" Finbar-like qualities, fascinated by the zoology of the jungle, but it was the next day that delivered an experience akin to the action seen in Jumanji: The Next Level.

Eric Eisenberg riding a sand buggy chased by an ostrich

Going For A Dune Buggy Adventure

In order to escape from the aforementioned herd of rampaging ostriches in Jumanji: The Next Level, the heroes hopped in a few dune buggies for a wild chase sequence – and it was this detail that delivered us to the third and final stop on our adventure.

Driving another hour north, our group arrived at Sun Buggy & ATV Fun Rentals at Pismo Beach for an afternoon of planned dune buggy riding… but there was a bit of a glitch. While Southern California is famous for its sunshine, Mother Nature decided to treat us that day with not just a little bit of rain, but a torrential downpour. Much like how demented ostriches nearly destroyed the lives of Dr. Xander "Smolder" Bravestone, Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon, Franklin "Mouse" Finbar, and Ruby Roundhouse in the movie, the weather threatened to destroy our fun day.

It failed, though. While there were definitely a few moments when it seemed like it was going to be too dangerous to ride, including a false start that saw me get into the driver’s seat of a buggy and then hop out a minute later, we eventually got caught a break. With the rain only coming down half as hard as it did during the worst parts of the day, I finally got to start my engine and speed out into the sand.

Zipping around at about 30 miles per hour, the solidity of the sand actually being a benefit to the ride, I has an amazing time, and could definitely empathize with the excitement demonstrated by the characters in Jumanji: The Next Level (further aided by a few carts being dressed up like ostriches and chasing us around – as you can see in the image above). I did manage to get my cart stuck once, but some quick assistance from our guides got all four of my wheels spinning again after just a minute, and then I was back to tearing up the course. It was a thrill, and the rain served to make it all the more exciting.

It’s definitely an experience that I will think about every time that I watch Jumanji: The Next Level – which I can now do thanks to the film being out on home video. Purchase a digital download, or pick up a 4K, Blu-ray, or DVD copy, and then join us as we impatiently wait for the fourth chapter of this excellent franchise.

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