Zathura (2005)

21 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Zathura” is a fun entertainment for the whole family. You could call it the outer space version of “Jumanji.” However, when “Jumanji” had a bit of a mean edge toward younger viewers, “Zathura” is a complete family film. It’s a smart and funny kid-adventure that will keep parents entertained as well. I really like the energy that went into this movie.

“Zathura’s” plot somewhat resembles “Jumanji,” which is obvious as the children’s books both movies were based upon were authored by Chris van Allsburg. “Zathura” features two young squabbling brothers who discover an old game. They begin the game and are suddenly put upon an incredible journey through the game world.

The movie opens with the brothers—ten-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo)—competing for the attention of their divorced dad (Tim Robbins) on a boring Saturday. The boys fight almost all the time—Walter can’t even seem to tolerate Danny’s existence. (Their constant arguing grows kind of tedious but that’s the point. They behave just like realistic sparring brothers.) Dad has to go to work for a while, leaving the boys supervised by their teenaged sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart)…that is, supervised from under the covers of her bed.

In the basement of their house, Danny finds an old game called “Zathura,” a cool-looking, retro board game that seems to have a mind all its own. It has a futuristic look to it and it looks to be just a simple race to a black planet with a huge “Z” marked on it. How to play: Wind the key, push the “GO” button, wait until the timer winds to one number between one and nine, let the little ship move up how many spaces the timer says to go, and read the card that pops out of the game when it stops. Danny brings the game up to the living room, hoping to get Walter to play with him (but Walter would rather watch ESPN), and does just that. But when he gets Walter to read the card that pops out of the game, saying “Meteor Shower—Take Evasive Action,” the two brothers are surprised when a couple of small meteors zoom down into the room! Then, more meteorites attack and pulverize the room, with Danny and Walter racing for shelter.

And right away, you know what kind of adventure this is going to be; during the meteor attack, the kids are untouched. So, right away, you know that nothing is going to happen to them and it’s just going to be fun. You just sit back and enjoy the inventiveness that comes with each danger that both boys come across.

After the meteor attack, the kids look outside and get a fantastic view of not a pulverized neighborhood…but Saturn! The kids are in space now, as their house is floating around, because of that game. After reading the instructions, they learn that in order to get back home, they have to finish the game. With each spin, the boys are put into more adventure and danger—their sister Lisa is frozen in cryonic sleep for five turns; a short-circuited robot runs amok; and alien battleships use their house as a collision course! Eventually, the boys are aided by a mysterious stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard), who guides them through whatever else might happen.

“Zathura” is a smart and funny children’s adventure that will keep the parents entertained as well. There are some good twists at the end, there’s some humor put in, there are moments of suspense, and the special effects aren’t all wall-to-wall CGI but like the robot and the lizard men that invade the house, they’re made the old-fashioned way to look more real. And “Zathura” is just a ton of fun. This is genuine fantasy and that explains why the astronaut hasn’t grown a beard after flying around for years (or light years), and how the kids are able to breathe when they step into space to see Saturn outside. And I loved the way the game looks. It’s an ingenious contraption that moves spaces for you and makes its own cards when the space is reached.

“Zathura” is the third film directed by Jon Favreau who also directed “Made” and “Elf.” Favreau is like Ron Howard—an actor who may have be born to direct, as he clearly knows and loves movies. He does a nice job here, and the movie looks good and bright, whereas “Jumanji” looked a bit too dark and mysterious. “Zathura” isn’t as menacing or as emotional as “The Polar Express,” but it works well as an exciting space opera. “Zathura” is a fun adventure and I was happy to go along with it.

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