***1/2 (out of 5)
November 11, 2005
Jonah Bobo as DANNY
Josh Hutcherson as WALTER
Dax Shepard as ASTRONAUT
Kristen Stewart as LISA
Tim Robbins as DAD
Studio: Sony Pictures
Directed by: Jon Favreau
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
When I saw “Jumanji” several years ago, I remember telling people that I liked the movie. I also added that I would have loved the movie if I was still a young boy. I felt much the same way about “Zathura.” I liked the movie, but it touched me more for its nostalgia for boyhood.
With a very similar plot to “Jumanji” – writer Chris Van Allsburg’s other board-game-comes-to-life movie – “Zathura” tells the story of two brothers who are always bickering. One day when their recently divorced father must leave them at home while he goes into work for a few hours, the younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) discovers an old board game in the basement.
After begging his older brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) to play, they start the game. However, the situations within the game suddenly manifest themselves in real life. Danny and Walter are suddenly flung into a fantasy/sci-fi world with their house as the spaceship. They dodge meteors, take on a homicidal robot and face a deadly race of flesh-eating aliens. And the only way for them to escape the game is to play the game to the very end.
“Zathura” is Jon Favreau’s follow-up to “Elf,” another warm-hearted holiday movie two years ago. Although I wasn’t a fan of Favreau’s first big flick “Made,” I really enjoyed “Elf.” He has a great sense of fantasy and adventure. Knowing he’s scheduled to head the new “John Carter of Mars” film really gives me something to look forward to next year.
The key to “Zathura” was picking the right cast, and the filmmakers did. Both boys do a fine job convincing the audience they are really bickering brothers. And the normally mousy Kristen Stewart (their sister in the film) is starting to grow out of her awkward stage. Even the edgy Dax Shepard from “Punk’d” seems relatively comfortable with a cast of children.
One of the downfalls of “Jumanji” was that it was a little ahead of its time. Digital effects were not quite at the point they needed to be in order to pull everything off. However, we’ve come a long way in ten years, and the digital effects are really up to speed for “Zathura.”
I remember what it was like to be a boy and enjoy wild fantasy adventure stories. Nothing was beyond disbelief. However, as I’ve grown older, I find myself questioning too much in movies sometimes. It’s a force of habit, I guess. But “Zathura” broke me of that.
Case in point, there is one scene where the stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard) lights a couch on fire and flings it into space to distract the carnivorous Zorgon aliens. The couch tumbles end-over-end into the star field, with flames flickering away. I said to myself, that couldn’t happen. The fire wouldn’t burn in the vacuum of space.
Then I shook my head and told myself not to be an idiot. This is a movie about a house floating into space with no pressurized system or safety airlocks. This is not a movie to be analyzed for any scientific merit. The events therein are events of magic, and it’s the mind of the child that the story really taps into.
“Zathura” is a good film for the family, but especially for young boys. To be honest, part of the appeal of something like “Zathura” (and “Jumanji,” for that matter) is that even with all the peril danger and turmoil the game causes, we secretly with that we could open a box from our basement and enter into an adventure like this…
…at least I do.