Editing: Disney's <I>Jungle Cruise</I>
Issue: July/August 2021

Editing: Disney's Jungle Cruise

In Disney’s Jungle Cruise, botanist Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is on a quest to find a legendary tree, whose petals are said to have healing powers that can change the world of medicine. She enlists wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to take her and her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), deep into the Amazon, where they will follow a course from an antique map and an arrowhead artifact that is believed to provide clues as to the tree’s location. 

But Frank is a bit of a scammer and misrepresents his services, showing up with a ram-shackled boat, called La Quila, and his own interest in making the discovery. The lush, green rainforest is deceptively beautiful, but extremely dangerous, and the explorers find themselves attacked by natives, nearly shipwrecked from the rapids, and pursued by villains and supernatural forces on their journey.

Jaume Collet-Serra directed the film, and it was his past work with editor Joel Negron that led to them working together once more. Negron has a history of working on large, VFX-heavy films. He was an assistant editor on Armageddon and an additional editor on Pearl Harbor. He also worked on Sleepy Hollow and Mars Attacks with director Tim Burton, as well as two Transformer movies. More recently, he cut the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok.

“I met Jaume when he was directing House of Wax…and kept my relationship with him,” Negron explains. “We got back together when he did The Shallows, which was another big visual effects movie with a digital shark.”

Jungle Cruise would have its share of visual effects, coming from contributors that include Weta Digital, ILM, Yannix, Rodeo FX, Rising Sun Pictures and UPP. For Negron, putting the film together, with so many visual effects still in development, was something he is often faced with.

“What we normally do with (visual effects) scenes — and there was a lot of them with Jungle Cruise — is we start out with either a previs sequence or storyboard sequence, so you have that as a template,” he explains. “And as you get the dailies, you start inserting the dailies that are non visual effects, that are minimal visual effects, and either intercut that with previs from The Third Floor or storyboards. If things are adjusted while they are shooting, you go back to the previs company and they adjust the pieces that fit in. You keep building upon that sequence as you get more footage, more previs, early visual effects shots…You just keep building on top of it until you’ve got the entire sequence.” 

For the 'rapids' scene, in which the explorers take a shorter but much more dangerous route, Negron cut in a clip from the 1951 movie The African Queen to serve as a place holder.

“Nobody saw it except Jaume and myself,” he recalls. “When we were working on the rapids sequence, The African Queen was something he had mentioned to me early on, before we started shooting, and he wanted to get that tone. There’s a rapids sequence in The African Queen, and there was a little boat that I comp’ed in…and we had it in there for a couple of weeks because we didn’t have anything else to put in there for some of the wide shots.”

Negron began editorial on-location in Hawaii, while the production was shooting. He later moved to Atlanta, where production continued, and ultimately to Los Angeles. Post production was well underway when COVID caused a shut down in early 2020.

“Jaume likes me to go on-location because I will assemble while he is shooting, and he will come in at the end of his day, and that will give him an idea of what he might need,” Negron explains. “Or, we will talk about performances and shots, and he will make a plan for the next day…We were almost done with the movie. We were mixing. I think we had seven reels, and we had done six out of the seven reels, doing the mix, and we got shut down.”

The team then worked remotely for several months, plugging in the final VFX before opening up once again late last summer to finish the movie.

Negron would receive dailies as DNx115 files for editing in his Avid. While in both Hawaii and Atlanta, the production had a remote dailies lab right next door — something he says was invaluable.

“They would transfer and do a quick color pass with the DP,” he recalls of the dailies process. “And if we got something that wasn’t matching or didn’t look correct, we just went right next door and they would redo it and it came back to us. It was amazing to have that. It was definitely a benefit.”

Several of the film’s scenes are enhanced through the edit. Early on, for example, MacGregor makes a pitch to a large group of historians, asking them to support ‘his’ idea of searching for the fabled tree. He is, in fact, presenting Lily’s idea, knowing that in 1920s London, a woman scientist would have significantly-less influence over a group of stodgy old men. While MacGregor is struggling to sell the idea, Lily is elsewhere in the hall, working to steal the arrowhead relic, which is believed to be a key in finding the Amazon tree. She is ultimately discovered, and what follows is a quick-thinking, well-timed escape with the artifact.

For Negron, cutting that sequence was made easy thanks to a well-executed production.

“The scene in London was a pretty straight forward action sequence, and Jaume is a master at that,” the editor explains. “That’s what he does. All his films have action in there, so that was pretty straight forward and worked out pretty well because he shot the right angle, and the timing and way he shot it was all planned out. That sequence wasn’t that difficult.”

Much more challenging, however, was the ‘tree house village’ sequence, where the explorers are captured by natives and lifted high into the rainforest.

“It was shot with the 1st and a 2nd unit, and it was shot over the course of weeks rather than days,” he explains. “Not only is the set layered, because you are in a tree house, but the geography, if it’s not edited properly, would be super difficult to follow…Some people are running on trees up above. They are swinging on ropes across the river below. And you’re getting that piecemeal — a lot of it is shot out of order…It becomes challenging to put together and to make it exciting and also to make it ‘action-y’. Geography was super challenging in that particular scene.”

The 'rapids' sequence was also one of the film’s more difficult sections to assemble. 

“Interestingly, Jaume and myself, for a long period, [were] the only ones who knew what [was] happening,” he recalls of the sequence. “We know the big picture...We are imagining what’s happening, but then we have to translate all that information to our postvis people, visual effects people and sound people, especially Jaume, because he has the vision and is leading the way to the other departments so that when it all comes together, it looks like what the audience sees on the screen.”