- by Jeff Beck
Goosebumps: The Wrong Approach Yields Iffy Results (Blu-ray)
Like millions of others, I grew up on R.L. Stine’s prolific series of “Goosebumps” books. It was one of the major fads of the 90s, with kids eagerly awaiting the next frightful tale in the collection. Sure, they were kind of silly, but they were quite a lot of fun to read as a kid. It even led to a pretty good television show in 1995 that brought several of Stine’s stories to life on the small screen. Even back then, I don’t think anyone ever imagined the possibility of the series being adapted into a movie, because quite frankly, how in the world would someone even go about doing that? Would it be one movie? A series? An anthology? Wasn’t the television show good enough for this classic series? Whatever format it would fall into, I and the multitude of fans that remember the books with fondness would no doubt venture into a feature film adaptation with the highest hopes that they would do justice to Stine’s creation, but with so much material to choose from, what would the result ultimately be?
The plainly-titled “Goosebumps” begins as many of the books would often do, by introducing us to our young protagonist, in this case, Zach (Dylan Minnette), a young boy who has moved to Madison, Delaware so that his mother (Amy Ryan) can take up a Vice Principal position at the local school. As he’s moving in, he meets his neighbors, the sweet Hannah (Odeya Rush), and her overbearing father, who just happens to be R.L. Stine (Jack Black). One night when he believes Hannah to be in danger, he breaks into her house with his friend Champ (Ryan Lee), discovering a set of manuscripts for the “Goosebumps” books in the process. Upon opening one of the books, they accidentally unleash The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, who goes on a rampage throughout town. Meanwhile, while Zach, Hannah, and Champ try to stop it, they are unaware that the creature’s rampage has also unleashed another one of Stine’s creations, Slappy the Dummy, who causes a whole mess of trouble on his own by releasing more of the monsters trapped within the books. With the town under siege from a multitude of creatures, it’s up to the teens and R.L. Stine himself to stop them.
Right there you can see what the answer to my earlier question was. Instead of trying to tackle just one or maybe a few of Stine’s monsters, for some strange reason the filmmakers decided to throw everything into one film. It’s not a terrible approach, and indeed it could have worked if a little more thought had gone into it, but ultimately it becomes an overstuffed flick that just tries to cram in too much at once. What results is the kind of film that will be a partially entertaining nostalgia trip for those that grew up with these books, mainly in that you can spend much of the film trying to point out which creatures make an appearance, but it doesn’t really disguise the fact that this adaptation is a bit of a mess.
To be fair, it does try to establish Slappy (from Stine’s “Night of the Living Dummy”) as the main villain, but he doesn’t really get to do much, and ends up being much more clownish than he was in the books and show. I suppose the filmmakers didn’t want to take the risk of going full Slappy in case it would scare the younger kids in the audience, but it’s still rather disappointing to find one of the best characters from the books rather subdued.
It does have its elements to enjoy, including a rather enjoyable turn from Jack Black as R.L. Stine, and a surprisingly good dose of humor spread throughout the film. Also, I must admit that I enjoyed playing “Spot the Creature,” though, surprisingly, there were a lot in here that I didn’t recognize at all (creatures freezing people, a maniacal clown running around, etc.). Putting that aside, it was fun to see the gnomes from “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes,” the blob from “The Blob that Ate Everyone,” and even a quick cameo from the Jack-O’-Lanterns from “Attack of the Jack-O’-Lanterns.”
However, it still makes you wish that they had actually focused the film’s attention on just a few antagonists instead of trying to include them all. I certainly wouldn’t have minded seeing a feature-length adaptation of one of the classics, but what I think would have worked best for a film like this would have been to give it the anthology treatment, similar to how the “Twilight Zone,” “Creepshow,” and “Tales from the Crypt” (the 1972 film, not the more recent ones) films did. It would have been a simple matter to take three or four of these tales and give them the cinematic treatment, with the result being much more focused and far less rushed along (another unfortunate side effect of trying to include too much).
Overall, this “Goosebumps” is the kind of film that some will find nostalgic value in, but not much else, and it seems like the kind of film that those who didn’t grow up with the books would like even less. Turning Stine’s series into a film is an interesting idea, and it could certainly work, but not when the foundation of the story is uninspired like this. It really all comes down to the material getting the right treatment, which, unfortunately for the fans, this was not.
“Goosebumps” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Most of the film takes place at night, and features quite a bit of CGI work, but the picture remains perfectly clear and sharp throughout. The Dolby Atmos audio is also outstanding, giving you all elements from the dialogue to Danny Elfman’s score in great quality. Overall, the film has been given marvelous treatment, ensuring the best experience possible.
All About Slappy (5 Minutes): An uninformative look behind the scenes at how Slappy was brought to life, hosted by Slappy himself.
Cast Blooper Reel (3 Minutes): A decent collection of outtakes.
Alternate Opening (3 Minutes): A completely different opening that must have been from an earlier version of the film.
Beginner’s Guide to Surviving a Goosebumps Creature (6 Minutes): A pointless inclusion that has two of the characters explaining how to fight some of the monsters from the film.
Strange Things are Happening…On-Set (3 Minutes): Another pointless inclusion involving fake “strange” events occurring on set.
Creaturefied! (9 Minutes): An easily skippable featurette featuring make-up projects you can do at home.
Cast Screen Test Gallery (7 Minutes): A collection of screen tests featuring Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, and Odeya Rush.
Deleted Scenes (13 Minutes): A large portion of deleted material, about half of which features more scenes from Zach’s first day at school, in addition to an alternate ending.
“Goosebumps” is an interesting attempt to turn the beloved series of books into a film, but with a story that’s uninspired and a bit rushed, it merely turns into an overstuffed tale that lacks focus. What this really boils down to is the filmmakers taking the wrong approach to the material. It’s understandable that they would want to show us more than one of Stine’s many creations, but why try to cram so many of them into one 90-minute film? Perhaps they thought that this was the only chance they’d get, so they decided to go for broke. Whatever the reason for it, we’re left with a film that has some good elements, but ultimately can’t hide the fact that it’s a bit of a mess.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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