Zathura

Zathura

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Whereas Joe Johnston’s Jumanji was defined by belligerent special effects of both the computer-animated (vicious monkeys, charging rhinos) and human (a hyperactive Robin Williams) variety, Jon Favreau’s Zathura—a similar board game-come-to-life fairy tale based on a Chris Van Allsburg book—mercifully relies only on the former. Which isn’t to say that this bludgeoning, episodic sci-fi saga isn’t still swarming with cacophonous explosions and creatures. Rather, it’s simply that, without any marquee personalities (save for a brief turn by a reserved Tim Robbins) around to devour the scenery, the film makes time amid its meteor showers and alien attacks to root itself in the small-scale drama between Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo), two boys struggling to come to terms with their parents’ divorce. Left alone on a Saturday afternoon by their dad (Robbins), Walter and Danny find themselves engulfed in a cosmic adventure when Danny begins playing the titular board game, a rickety creation of wind-up keys, spinning number counters, and mechanized playing pieces that magically launches their house into the atmosphere. Delivering a cornucopia of outer space sights designed with retro ‘50s-era style (including a Forbidden Planet-ish defective robot), Zathura functions much like its board game namesake, its forward motion a step-by-step progression through predictably scheduled frantic encounters with extraterrestrials and a wayward astronaut (Dax Shepard). Favreau balances astonishing spectacle with the push-pull argumentativeness of his pint-sized protagonists, and the early earthbound bickering between the kids—facilitated by the filmmaker’s assured direction and his stars’ convincing rapport—has a contentious credibility. Unfortunately, beholden to set-piece extravagance above all else, the film quickly finds itself adrift in turgid CG exhibitionism. The appeal of Van Allsburg’s story hinges on exploiting the childhood fantasy of “entering” a board game, and yet by succumbing to prosaic literal visualizations of out-of-this-world fantasticalities, Favreau’s cinematic adaptation devolves into a familiar, unimaginative real-life cartoon. And thus aside from Walter and Danny’s provocatively dressed, hot-to-trot older sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart, successfully obliterating her Panic Room tomboyishness), Zathura ultimately comes across as little more than the template for an eventual kiddie-friendly theme park attraction.

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Distributor
Columbia Pictures
Runtime
101 min
Rating
PG
Year
2005
Director
Jon Favreau
Screenwriter
David Koepp, John Kamps
Cast
Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz