Sunday, September 27, 2015

Zathura: A Space Adventure

Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are brothers left alone by their father (Tim Robbins) one afternoon, with their older sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) ignoring them upstairs.  Walter is the the bullying older brother who has outgrown Danny and thinks of himself as more mature than his little brother.  Danny finds an old board game in the basement.  Zathura is a game about space travel and to win you must be the first to the end.  After Danny pushes the button the boys are trapped in the game as all sorts of things start to go wrong:  meteor showers, spaceships full of Zorgons, the cryogenic freezing of their sister, a malfunctioning robot, and a stranded astronaut.

One of the best decisions in this movie is to center the movie on the boys and their reactions to what is happening.  The director gets the bickering of brothers so good that in parts I wanted to pull out my hair to stop the whining.  Kudos, but I wish you had turned it down just slightly.

The movie slows for me when it introduces new characters like Lisa and the astronaut (Dax Shepard) to the game and gets away from the main story of Danny and Walter.  Also the astronaut’s presence (he plays the Robin Williams character who got trapped in the game when he was a kid) creates too many questions and inconsistancies in the film that are dealt with in a way that may make sense to a 10 year old, but I had some problems with.

The effects are quite good, although there are scenes that aren’t quite right and you can easily pick out the green screen moments.  I also like Zorgons who look like creatures out of Dark Crystal rather than smooth CGI aliens.  I also liked the look of the game board itself and the whole Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers style of the film.

One side note, the film is very masculine.  The only female character is Lisa who sadly isn’t very bright or useful except for one ten second scene.  This didn’t bother me much when watching the movie, but on reflection it seems a little cheap to write the older sister as such a stock character (she belongs much more in Friday the 13th part whatever than here) while taking the time to thoroughly explore the brothers’ characters.  Truthfully her character isn’t even necessary to the plot other than adding another person in the house who things can happen to.

The movie keeps all that worked from Jumanji but here improves upon the formula.  I would have liked a little more variation, but what is changed does work well.  Good acting from the young cast, and the oddly cast and hardly seen Tim Robbins.  A nice film for the family that will be a huge hit with the younger male demographic.

Released on a new 10th Anniversary Blu-ray, the single-disc includes the previously released featurettes including a virtual board game, audio commentary from director Jon Favreau and producer Peter Billingsley, and looks at the effects, miniatures, author, and cast. Also included is a digital copy of the film, a motion book of the original story, trailer, and the cast of the upcoming Goosebumps looks back on Zathura.

[Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $19.99]

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