Dir. Jon Favreau, US, 2005, 113 mins
Cast: Tim Robbins, Kristen Stewart, Dax Shepard, Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson
With the success of Jumanji and The Polar Express the work of author Chris Van Allsburg has reached must-adapt status. This is coupled with Hollywood unabatedly milking the kids’ literature cash cow since the success of Harry Potter and The Grinch (Dr. Seuss, Lemony Snicket, Narnia, Eragon, etc.).
Like Jumanji, Zathura: A Space Adventure the film is named after ‘Zathura: A Space Adventure’ the board game, which is discovered in the basement of their new home by the youngest of a trio of siblings, six year old Danny (Bobo). Their newly divorced father (Robbins) has been forced to leave his sons in the care of his teenage daughter (Stewart) while he goes to work one Saturday. Ten year old Walter (Hutcherson) hates his younger brother and the two are constantly fighting. Boredom forces the two to play the game. The aim is to reach the fabled planet of Zathura. From the get go what happens in the game happens in the real world. After each move the board spits out a card which the players must follow or interpret if they are to survive. The first move propels their home into space where the living-room is decimated by a meteor shower. Following this an escalating array of dangers befall the children, but their animosity towards each other threatens to wreck their chance of returning home by completing the game.
Writer-actor-director Favreau, coming off the huge Stateside hit of Elf, probably could have picked whatever project he wanted. With that commercial success he has been able to assemble a formidable array of talent to bring to life this sci-fi fantasy: uber effects genius Stan Winston (Aliens, Edward Scissorhands, Jurassic Park), production designer J. Michael Riva (Lethal Weapon, The Goonies), musician Jon Debney (The Passion of the Christ), cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Jackie Brown, Hellboy) and screenwriter David Koepp (Mission: Impossible, Panic Room, Spider-Man). When the retro-styled credits rolled and revealed those names this reviewer thought here could be something special.
The game is clearly a metaphor for what life can throw at a family if it does not stick together, couched in an adventure story that children can easily swallow. However what lets the film down is the amount of time spent with the bickering brothers. After awhile I wanted to send up a flare to the projection booth and scream “Please turn down the volume!” whenever the two of them appeared. Favreau should have knocked this one out of the park. It has all the ingredients that make a great boys adventure movie that parents would enjoy too: annoying older/younger brother, aloof teenage sister, action, killer robot, outer-space, astronaut buddy, self-reliance and monsters.
Where did it go wrong? The ‘being sucked into a game’ emerging sub-genre has benchmarks like Tron, Labyrinth and to a certain degree Jumanji. What have made the first two endure are the sheer level of imagination up on screen and the likeability of the leads. Zathura focuses on the grating domestic malcontent of the brothers which reduced the amount of time that could have been spent on the well constructed but too brief set-pieces. You know the robot is going to be helpful later on in the movie and when you expect him to kick-ass for the family it is over in less than a minute. Everything felt a little watered down and restrained – the action, inventiveness and the wonder – from the Zorgan baddies to the unrecognizable voice work by Frank “Yoda/Fozzie Bear” Oz. There is a house floating in the beauty and high-adventure of space which never came through in the film. This movie feels like Dr Evil’s speech in the second Austin Powers, “You're semi-evil. You're quasi-evil. You're the margarine of evil. You're the Diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough.” If Elf was the diet coke of family comedies, then Zathura is the margarine of family adventure.
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of Zathura for 26th June 2006 priced at £19.99.
- 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- English DD5.1 Surround
- English & Hindi subtitles
- Audio Commentary with Jon Favreau and Peter Billingsley
- The Right Moves – The Making of Zathura
- Race to the Purple Planet – Visual Effects Documentary
- Cast Featurette
- Zorgons, Robots and ‘Frozen Lisa’ Featurette
- Making the Game – Featurette
- Miniatures – Featurette
- The World of Chris Van Allsburg – Featurette
- Your Robot is Defective – Easter Egg