Seventeen years later, the impact of the stampede of animals in the film “Jumanji” can still be felt in Keene’s history. On December 15, 1995, the infamous game board came to life in downtown Keene, using Central Square as its setting. Tom Cook, professor of film, said, “Their (Jumanji’s) location manager was driving around and didn’t even plan on coming into Keene and wanted to grab a cup of coffee and so he pulled up as he is driving on Main Street and he sees the town and goes ‘Oh my god this is it!’”Cook, who acted as a liaison between the studio and the city of Keene, worked closely with the production manager in order to bring “Jumanji” to Keene.
“Keene as the city had never worked with any major motion picture. In some respect, it took a lot of convincing for meeting,” Cook explained, “They were very worried it would tear up the town.”
However, once the city agreed to having the movie filmed in Central Square, the city went full-force in working with the production manager and the line producer, according to Cook.
According to Peter Condon, professor of film, “Jumanji” was scheduled to be filmed in downtown Keene for five days; however, they were able to finish shooting scenes in four days. “It was during October, and it was such beautiful weather—they were able to film everything they could sooner,” Condon explained. “They were only here doing the actual filming for four days. And Keene is only on screen for five minutes if that,” Cook said. In order to accommodate the camera crew and the filming of downtown, Main Street was blocked off similarly to Pumpkin Fest. “I got to watch them film the scenes in the Central Square where the animals run amok,” Condon said. To give the idea that a stampede was occurring in the middle of downtown Keene, the animals were all electronically added afterwards. “The car where the elephant steps on top of it was actually filmed with an implosion. What happened was, when imploded the car collapsed in on itself,” Condon explained. Matt Newton, director of New Hampshire Film and Television Office, was a film student at Keene State College during the time that “Jumanji” was filmed in Keene. Newton said, “We were all expecting elephants, but there were no elephants.”
However, despite not seeing the stampede of elephants running wild through the streets of Keene, Newton said it was still very entertaining to watch. Newton along with Larry Benaquist, professor of film, met Kirsten Dunst while she was on set. At the time, Dunst was only 12-years-old and had just completed her first major motion picture, “Interview with the Vampire,” the film that ultimately skyrocketed her to fame. “She was standing there next to the camera man and I was standing there next to one of the producers and she came over and said ‘Hello’,” Benaquist said, “Now when I see her (on television), I think about that time when I shook her hand all those years ago.” While Newton visited the set of “Jumanji,” he met Dunst as she was filming one of her scenes. Newton had her sign his Keene State hat, an autograph he still has in his possession today. Even though some of the film professors met Dunst, they did not have an opportunity to meet the star of the film, Robin Williams. “I know people who did go to the set and he was the type of person who wouldn’t go to his trailer in between takes like most actors would do, he hung out with the crowd and went around and talked to everyone,” Condon said, “Whatever town he (Williams) goes into, he wants to contribute to the local economy because sometimes films disrupt that so he wanted to help out as much as he could.”
However, the presence of these actors was more than just an opportunity for fans to meet their idols; it was an opportunity for them to see film history in the making. Condon said that while he was teaching his Into to Film History class, right across the street from Parker Hall, in front of the Historical Society, the film crew was shooting the scene where Adam Hann-Byrd, who played young Alan, rode his bicycle down Main Street.
“We were talking about film history and Hollywood was right outside making history,” Condon said. “They (actors) create a fantasy world that they embody that we adopt and we accept that so meeting the person w ho gave us that gift becomes important,” Benaquist said. But even though this popular film did bring some recognition to the city of Keene, it did not change it. Rather, the Parrish Shoes sign and the Coca-Cola sign leftover from the film’s set, have all become significant reminders of “Jumanji’s” presence in the city. Benaquist said, “It didn’t change Keene—movies stay with us. They form part of our individual and cultural memory.” And these memories will forever be a part of Keene’s history.
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