Director: Jon Favreau | 97 minutes | action, adventure, family, fantasy | Actors: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz, John Alexander, Derek Mears, Douglas Tait, Joe Bucaro III, Jeff Wolfe
Some Hollywood stars seem so sympathetic that you already embrace a product of their hand in your heart. Jon Favreau is such a person: director / writer and co-producer of the instant cult classic “Swingers”, Ultimate Fighting Champion and boyfriend-of-Monica Pete on the TV series “Friends”, director of “Elf”; Add to that his puppy eyes and (big) teddy bear appearance and you get the idea: a movie by this man cannot be a failure … But because there are undoubtedly people who have never heard of the best man, or maybe even a hate him, there must of course be an objective judgment about his film ‘Zathura’.
“Zathura” is the film adaptation of the only 32 page print (!) Book by Chris Van Allsburg, the author who was also responsible for the idea behind “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express”. It should come as no surprise that the story does not involve much and could be too short for a feature film. However, script writers David Koepp and John Kamps have succeeded in making “Zathura” an entertaining film that does not collapse or stretch unnecessarily.
The story is very similar to that of “Jumanji”: also in “Zathura” a number of people are pulled into a game, where they initially have to work together against their will to survive the game. In “Jumanji”, after every turn, hordes of wild animals disrupted a safe living environment, in “Zathura” the two protagonists suddenly find themselves in space. The book “Zathura” is a sequel to “Jumanji” and has the same main characters.
The two main characters in the movie are Walter Budwing (Josh Hutcherson) and his younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo). The situations that are shown are very recognizable: the brothers cannot stand each other, the youngest is bullied, but only because the older one is hooker; if the youngest had had more life experience, the roles could easily be reversed. The couple’s father, played by Tim Robbins, tries to make the best of it, but fails quite a bit. When he has to leave the house for a work-related message, the viewer does not expect anything other than that the two boys will get in each other’s hair. Introducing the third character (actually fourth, if you count the father) in the movie is nicely done, it comes as a surprise that there is also an older sister in the house. Sister Lisa is portrayed by Kristen Stewart, whose breakthrough came in the 2002 movie “Panic Room”, where she played Jodie Foster’s daughter. The character of Lisa is not always that important in the film – she spends half the film frozen – but her scenes are very humorous.
When Danny finds a mysterious board game in the basement, he tries to persuade Walter to play it, but the latter stubbornly refuses and continues to watch TV. The curious Danny starts to play the game on his own, and is given a card that says a meteor shower is coming and cover needs to be taken. Walter has to read the card because Danny cannot and the two brothers look at each other in bewilderment. Then it starts to rain… Meteors… From that moment on there is no way back and the brothers have to play the game.
The film is full of visual spectacle, the scene in which Danny opens the front door and sees the house floating in space, is breathtakingly beautiful. The special effects are well done too, the Zorgons (the carnivorous lizard-like monsters that the brothers face off) look eerily real and there are plenty of explosions and action scenes to keep young and old entertained. There is also plenty to laugh about, when Danny walks past a herd of goats in the Zorgon ship for example, muttering to himself “they’re just goats, they’re just goats,” and, after seeing how many eyes they have: “they’re not goats , they are not goats ”. “Zathura” is a real family film, which despite a simple plot through the excellent direction of Jon Favreau, the input of the actors and the visual effects manages to captivate for more than an hour and a half.