Warring pre-teen brothers Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo), at each other's throats about everything, much to the chagrin of their father (Tim Robbins), are thrown together in an intergalactic space adventure after playing an old board game which rockets their house into the far reaches space. Along with their older sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) and stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard), the young group must find a way to finish the game, battling an evil race of reptile creatures, meteor showers and each other, in order to find a way home.
Review by Craig Miller:
Fast making a name for himself as a reliable family-man director, Jon Favreau's Zathura is a throwback to the space adventures of the 1980s, moulding kid-friendly fantasy and simple, smartly blended effects into a likeable piece of children's escapism that is well-balanced, well-meaning and, for the most part, darn-well made.
For better or worse, Favreau puts plenty of himself in his projects and, knowing what he enjoyed in films in the past and working to his strengths as a filmmaker, with Zathura we get a creation that, while not blindingly original, is certainly imaginatively crafted.
The warmth lies in its familiarity with Zathura initially conceived as a direct sequel to the almost plot identical 1995 feature Jumanji and, while it's a little less convincing as a "Jumanji in space", the scenarios and plotting do throw up a lot of fun.
It does have problems and some minor irritations, the "science" (sometimes being able to breath in space, other times not) is a little relaxed and the young cast is wooden concerning their dialogues together (yet surprisingly excel when it comes to acting with the effects shots), its sense of humour is a touch weak and the emotional side of the film is left a little under-developed with some unconvincing characterisation. But, taken as a whole, these are only minor quibbles.
On the positive side, Favreau knows his target audience well. In a lot of ways this is an effects picture set up to dazzle younger audiences with panoramic space scenes and stimulate the imagination with its tantalising intergalactic visuals, giant metal robots and rocket-powered jet packs. But like all solid kids entertainment, there's a strong thematic presence regarding family and important life lessons to be learned which deepen the enjoyment.
While it may have some issues, Zathura also has the potential to really stick with its target demographic long after they leave theatres. That won't win it any awards, but to give those under-12s an opportunity to wish, believe and imagine... really, what's more important than that.
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CAST: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, John Alexander
VOICES: Frank Oz
PRODUCER: Michael De Luca, Scott Kroopf
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
SCRIPT: David Koepp, John Kamps, (novel by Chris Van Allsburg)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillermo Navarro
EDITOR: Dan Lebental
MUSIC: John Debney
PRODUCTION DESIGN: J. Michael Riva
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Tas: January 26; Vic: March 9; NSW/Qld: March 30, 2006