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Overall Rating

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

9 reviews, 21 user ratings

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by Eugene Novikov

"About as good as it could be."
3 stars

After "Jumanji," "The Polar Express," and now "Zathura," I think of Chris Van Allsburg as someone whose mostly inane stories are somehow turned into decent movies. So be it. Their appeal is easy to see: each is based on a nifty, undemanding, cinematic gimmick, and in the case of "Jumanji" and "Zathura," it's the same gimmick.

A group of kids discover a mysterious board game, and before long they're playing it in real life, having to navigate life-threatening dangers in order to "win" and have the pieces reset to the beginning. Zathura is essentially a sequel -- or, depending on your perspective, the same film -- and all concerned are better off knowing this before springing for tickets.

A necessity of this gimmick, it seems, is that the plot comes to resemble an amusement park ride more so than a story. Given that the "game" is utterly omnipotent and in complete control, there's an arbitrariness to the proceedings: nothing the characters do can have any real significance, since they are eternally at the mercy of this supernatural device. There are no rules, and no telling if anything that happens is good, bad or indifferent. For those not content to gape in delight as a modest single family home winds up floating through space, this can get a bit frustrating.

Almost certainly less expensive than Jumanji and much less of an event, Zathura has the leeway to immediately assert itself as a boys' movie. The protagonists are two squabbling brothers -- ten year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and six year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo). The film quickly sets up their believable and somewhat heart-rending rivalry: Walter is at that stage where he Wishes He Never Had a Brother, while Danny looks up to the older boy and just wishes he would be nicer. Obviously, this is headed into predictable territory, with an emphatic reconciliation being inevitable, but you might be surprised how little maudlin sentiment this involves.

In fact, the film's biggest liability, assuming the plot contrivances are forgiven, is that it doesn't trust its characters. I was sufficiently intrigued by the dynamic between the two boys (and, intermittently, their sister, played by Kristen Stewart) to begin to anticipate seeing it play out against the backdrop of this fantastical board game. Instead, we're introduced to the Astronaut, an obnoxious third party played by Dax Shepard. He's distracting and utterly superfluous; his character has a "clever" resolution, but the objective it accomplishes (to be as vague as possible) has essentially already been taken care of by that point in the movie; it's redundant. It's a compliment to the film that I wanted more of its main characters and less stupid marginalia, but what it actually does is problematic.

The upshot of all of this is that the screenplay is, overall, rather potent. This is not surprising considering that one of the screenwriters is Hollywood pro David Koepp, who has a genuine talent for writing layered, believable genre films. Zathura is complete nonsense in many ways -- it's not a very good story by any stretch, and it's unlikely to make much of an impression on anyone, no matter the age -- but in portraying these two kids, their sister, and their dad, it somehow feels right.

Director Jon Favreau (Elf), meanwhile, doesn't bother with terribly fancy CGI effects, making them nifty and pretty and calling it a day. The aliens who eventually show up look like dudes in costumes, and their starships would be at home on syndicated kids' tv. This is a good thing. For all of its fundamental inadequacies, Zathura has a personality and a soul. It seems about as good as it could be.

(Review reprinted from

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originally posted: 03/04/07 23:05:41
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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
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
11/13/05 Quigley the movie is as funny as it is visually stunning and clever. not jumanji, but very good 4 stars
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  11-Nov-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2006

  03-Feb-2006 (PG)


Directed by
  Jon Favreau

Written by
  David Koepp
  John Kamps

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

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