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Overall Rating
3.27

Awesome: 10.67%
Worth A Look36%
Average: 28%
Pretty Bad: 20%
Total Crap: 5.33%

9 reviews, 21 user ratings


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Zathura
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Favreau goes for his inner Spielberg and finds his inner Chris Columbus"
2 stars

In interviews to promote “Zathura,” director Jon Favreau has repeatedly mentioned that his chief intention was to make a film that would pay homage to the kid-oriented fantasy films that Steven Spielberg produced during the 1980's. That is a noble sentiment, I suppose, but did he have to choose “The Goonies” as his film to emulate? This is a disappointingly juvenile exercise in formulaic filmmaking that squanders an appealing premise and a decent-enough opening reel or two with a formulaic screenplay, uninteresting characters and one boring explosion after another. Ironic that a film that is meant to celebrate the power of imagination would wind up being so largely devoid of that very element itself.

The set-up for “Zathura” contains all of the elements one might find in an old Amblin production–a couple of perpetually squabbling brothers, 10-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and 6-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo), one literally absent parent, one distracted-by-work parent (Tim Robbins), an older sister (Kristen Stewart) who considers both her brothers to be pests and a rambling suburban home. Left alone under the less-than-watchful eye of their sleeping sister one afternoon when Dad has to go to the office, Danny uncovers an old space-age-themed board game called Zathura stashed away in the basement and coaxes Walter into playing with him. Once the living room is hit by a meteor shower and their sister is put into cryogenic sleep, Walter and Danny realize that this is more than just a game–their entire house is flying through outer space and the only chance that they have to get home is to continue playing the game to the end while overcoming obstacles such as killer robots and flesh-eating aliens. Along the way, they pick up a stray astronaut (Dax Shepard) who offers both advice on warding off the aliens and a deep secret or two of his own.

The premise sounds startlingly like “Jumanji in Space” and indeed it is–the film is based on a children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, whose previous works have included “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express”–another book in which small children are mysteriously whisked away to a magical world for the sketchiest of reasons. At the very least, “Zathura” is a better film than “Jumanji,” and not just because it doesn’t feature Robin Williams doing his increasingly tiresome manic man-boy schtick. The early Earth-bound scenes show some promise–Favreau does a good job of capturing the dynamics of a typically contentious sibling relationship, one where a cruel argument can suddenly emerge from nothing and create long-lasting hurts, and Robbins is surprisingly effective in the harried-parent role; instead of coasting through what is essentially a cameo role, he treats it as seriously as he would if the role was actually the lead. And when the action shifts to outer space, it still works for a little while thanks to the retro-futuristic stylistic approach (everything appears to have been based on what people in the 1950's thought the future would look like) and on Favreau’s correct decision to eschew fancy CGI effects for a more practical approach–the first shot of the suburban house drifting through space has a kind of goofy majesty to it.

The problem with “Zathura” is that after about a half-hour or so, it becomes sadly apparent that the film itself is drifting aimlessly through space as well without much purpose or drive. Once the initial giddiness wears off, Favreau doesn’t really have much else to say or do and desperately tries to cover the absence of a compelling storyline with any number of loud explosions and alien attacks. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing but for the fact that Favreau (whose previous directorial efforts have included “Made” and “Elf”) doesn’t quite have the visual eye to pull them off–all of the action scenes wind up looking like one another. He tries to complicate things later on with the addition of the astronaut character but this merely introduces another set of problems–his presence distracts from what should be a story about the two kids and when we finally discover who he really is, it merely confuses things further and raises new sets of questions at the exact point when the movie needs to be wrapping things up.

What is really lacking in “Zathura” is any sense of wonder on the part of the two kids. These kids are in OUTER SPACE, for Pete’s sake, but they never seem appropriately dazzled by this awesome fact–they are too busy continuing with their petty gripes to allow the majesty of the situation to really take hold. One could argue that this is part of the joke–that a sibling conflict can get so blown out of proportion that it blinds kids to the world around them–but if so, it is one that Favreau never quite pulls off. We also never get any sense that they are in any real peril at any point–not even an attack by flesh-eating aliens or a trip through a black hole seem to faze them much. If the kids don’t seem to be having the time of their lives, how do the filmmakers expect those of us in the audience to feel the same way?

Because it doesn’t contain any real swear words (except for one or two odd moments that seem to have been included to secure a more commercially viable PG rating) or icky parts, parents will no doubt flock to the multiplexes with their families in droves safe in the assumption that there is nothing in it that will be harmful to them. However, the film also lacks any real imagination or ingenuity as well and I, for one, find that to be even more worrisome in something aimed at children. I guarantee that if you picked a couple of pre-teens at random and asked them to make up a story involving a couple of kids in a house floating through space, what they would come up with would be far more interesting than anything seen in the film. “Zathura” is like one of those elaborate toys that you stay up all night on Christmas Eve putting together, only to find that the kids are having more fun playing with the box that it came in.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13483&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/11/05 16:47:44
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User Comments

9/24/14 Anees Shaik Not as great as Jumanji but, pretty good 4 stars
9/26/09 KayKay The second of the two worst movies of 2005 (the first is Son of The Mask) 1 stars
11/25/08 sweetgrrl1972 Too scary for kids, too stupid for adults and a bit with an incestuous crush in the middle 1 stars
9/03/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Storyline 3 stars
5/29/08 PAUL SHORTT HERE'S A SPACE MESS THATS ALL SHOW WITH VERY LITTLE GO 1 stars
8/13/07 Winger Disappointing. 10 years earlier they made a better movie called Jumanji. Good graphics tho. 3 stars
3/21/07 dude pretty bad 2 stars
3/06/07 Robin Hudspeth My kids loved it. Some very funny and exciting moments. 4 stars
8/24/06 AnnieG If you liked "Jumanji" - watch it again instead of getting this film. 2 stars
6/28/06 joe koski not as good as jumanji 4 stars
2/24/06 ES cool fx but a confusing ending, I had to have it explained to me and it still made no sense 4 stars
2/17/06 tatum It's ten times better than "Jumanji," a real treat 4 stars
12/14/05 Corinne entertaining, a great sequel to the first. Would see again without a doubt 4 stars
12/04/05 Haley F***in' DUH, WiseMan. It's by the same guy. And it's great stuff. :D 5 stars
11/30/05 Robert Quinn very fun film, if you liked jumanji, check it out! 4 stars
11/22/05 WiseMan JUMANJI RIP OFF!!!! 2 cups of salt 5 Cups of chicken and 6 cups of dog shit = Zathura 1 stars
11/21/05 Jeff Anderson A lot better than JUMANJI & a rare family film that's actually a lot of fun. I WAS HOOKED! 5 stars
11/18/05 Robert Braunfeld Great family movie to lose yourself in adventure 4 stars
11/17/05 PAG Not bad. Better than Jumanji. Not as good as Elf. 3 stars
11/15/05 DARIO TRUCOS PARA COUNTER-STRIKE 2 stars
11/13/05 Quigley the movie is as funny as it is visually stunning and clever. not jumanji, but very good 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  11-Nov-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2006

UK
  03-Feb-2006 (PG)

Australia
  30-Mar-2006


Directed by
  Jon Favreau

Written by
  David Koepp
  John Kamps

Cast
  Tim Robbins
  Josh Hutcherson
  Jonah Bobo
  Dax Shepard
  Kristen Stewart
  Frank Oz



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