How a Fantasy Dud Paved Way for ‘Jungle Book’

You may not know it, but there’s very little that’s real about “The Jungle Book.”

The new movie does, indeed star young actor Neel Sethi and features the voices of Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken and Bill Murray. The rest was born in a fancy Hollywood computer.


Just about everything you see outside of Sethi was created with ones and zeroes. The production employed blue screens while the child actor hit his paces. Later, artists fleshed out the jungle and its colorful creatures. It’s an astounding visual trick, and a darn near seamless one from the audience’s perspective.

And, in a way, the filmmakers have a famous flop to thank for it.

The 2004 film “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” boasted big stars (Jude Law, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow) and a cutting-edge production plan. It, too, used blue screens aplenty rather than putting the stars in front of props and traditional sets.

The project’s young writer/director, Kerry Conran, seemed poised for a big career that would change the way Hollywood operated. Only not enough people lined up to see “Sky Captain.”

The reviews for the film were mixed, too.

Suddenly, a project that could have revolutionized Hollywood went away. And so did the film’s director. His big Hollywood moment never materialized.

Yet all the signs indicated it would happen as if in a fairy tale fit for Hollywood.

He had spent years making a short using the technology he had in mind. That allowed him to seal the directorial deal. He also began hanging out with Hollywood luminaries like James Cameron and George Lucas.

Conran, along with his brother Kevin, made the film they wanted to make. It simply didn’t take off as expected. He was offered to helm an adaptation of “John Carter of Mars,” but the project ended up in other hands after managerial changes far above his pay grade.


His last blog post, which covered some of the “John Carter” work, was published last year.

Since then, Kerry Conran has made just one film — the 2012 short feature “Gumdrop.” The man whose work predicted the way many motion pictures would soon be made is an industry footnote. It’s a shame.

There’s plenty of hoopla surrounding “The Jungle Book” these days. The film just hauled in another $42 million in domestic box office sales, bringing its grand total over three weeks to $252 million. And counting.

The movie itself is a joyous rebooting of the 1967 Disney animated feature. Suffice to say a franchise is born.

Conran likely won’t get name checked too often as “Jungle Book” keeps ringing the cash registers. Yet his work setting the template for how movies like “The Jungle Book” got made shouldn’t be ignored.

Hollywood adores second acts. Let’s hope Conran gets his own, sooner than later.


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