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ZATHURA

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins
Director: Jon Favreau
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1|
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: February 14, 2006

“WOW! OUTER SPACE!”

“No, it’s just night time.”

“I don’t know, Walter, it’s never looked SO CLOSE before.”

Film ***

The literary works of Chris Van Allsburg are starting to establish their place as some of the most entertaining family adventures to hit the big screen. 2004 saw Allsburg’s timeless The Polar Express be transformed into one of the best holiday movies ever made. A year later comes Zathura, which delivers high scale adventure in ways that I haven’t seen since I was a little kid.

In that regard, a lot of the credit should be given to director Jon Favreau. Who knew that the writer of Swingers and the writer/director of Made, two very adult-themed films, had it in him to make sharp kids entertainment? Favreau stuck it big with his first family film, the holiday comedy Elf, two years ago. Now he has made a high flying adventure movie that kids and adults will both enjoy at equal measures.

And yet, the film suffered big time at the box office. There are two possible reasons for that. The first is the most obvious; it was released in theaters one week after Chicken Little and a week prior to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, resulting in tough competition. The second reason is that some speculated it was a cinematic rehash of another Allsburg book-turned-movie, Jumanji. The truth of the matter is Zathura knocks Jumanji flat on its tail in so many ways.

In all fairness, the story here is intentionally a continuation of Jumanji, this time involving a simple board game that comes to life as it is played. But this game has many more surprises in store. And the movie itself is a more creative and entertaining one. And the effects are much more impressive than the overdone CGI that plagued the earlier movie.

And the movie depicts one of the truest forms of sibling rivalry to ever hit the screen. In this case, brothers Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo) are constantly at each others throats. Living with their divorced father (Tim Robbins), the two are in frequent competition for the most attention. Walter is the oldest and more stuck up of the two, ruining Danny’s game of catch and upsetting him greatly to the point where he calls him a name that you’d never expect to hear in a PG rated movie.

With dad having to leave the house for work, the two are left under the eye of older sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart), who is still asleep. Not a good sign. Then Danny discovers an ancient board game in the basement called Zathura: A Space Adventure. He then encourages an unencourageable Walter to play with him. After the first move, a card pops out of the board reading meteor shower. Moments later, that’s exactly what attacks the house.

Zathura is indeed an out of this world game. With every move on the board comes another explosive consequence. During the course of the movie/game, you can expect to encounter psychotic robots, human astronauts, humans freezing and nasty lizard creatures known as Zorgons. Sufficient to say, I don’t think Milton Bradley will be furnishing the game any time soon.

One of the dynamic qualities of Zathura is how Favreau handles the action scenes. He made an effort to use little or no CGI effects as possible as a way of adding to the retro feel of the movie. The results left me awestruck. I was especially creeped out by the look of the Zorgon creatures, which are as truly disgusting as I’ve mentioned.

I think Favreau is the finest director helming family-oriented films, although I wouldn’t mind at all a return to adult-themed material like Swingers or Made. So many of today’s family films live action ones in particular, fall flat on their face within the first several minutes. Zathura, on the other hand, holds interest to the very end. Now that’s a tremendous compliment.

Video ****

Sony’s anamorphic presentation is indeed out-of-this-world quality. The image quality is consistently clear and crisp, delivering many memorable-looking shots in the process. Colors are nothing short of magnificent as well. Even during many of the movie’s dark sequences, the presentation remains a strong one. Nothing but high marks all around on this one.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is so effective you’ll feel as if you’re there playing the game yourself. There are countless moments in the movie that give the speakers a tremendous working. Once a player makes his move on the game board, all I can say is DUCK! Music and dialogue also get outstanding treatment. High on the list of great sounding discs for 06.

Features ****

Sony gives a grand Special Edition treatment for this release. Featured is a commentary from Jon Favreau and co-producer Peter Billingsley, as well as seven well made featurettes; “The Right Moves: The Making Of Zathura”, “Race To The Black Planet: A Visual Effects Documentary”, “The Cast Of Zathura”, “Zorgons, Robots and "Frozen Lisa", “Making the Game” “Miniatures and the World of Zathura” and
”The World of Chris Van Allsburg”. Lastly, there are several bonus trailers.

Summary:

Zathura is a must see for families, kids, heck-EVERYONE. The entertainment value of the film is undeniable. It’s one adventure you won’t want to end.

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