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  Zathura: A Space Adventure Game Of Strife
Year: 2005
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is one of the days where six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) and his older brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) spend the day at the house of their dad (Tim Robbins), and while they enjoy the time he allots to them, he does have to work as well, so leaves the boys to their own devices. Danny feels that he is an underachiever in comparison to his sibling, and storms off in a huff, not feeling any better when his dad tries to reason with him. Then, after more rowing, dad has to leave them alone for a short business meeting, but their teenage sister (Kristen Stewart) is there to look after them. What could possibly go wrong?

How about something similar to what happened in the hit fantasy film Jumanji? Which is not surprising considering they were both based upon children's stories by illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, and rare was the viewer of this film who did not observe the acute resemblence. Adapted by David Koepp and John Kamps, Zathura will always be a work that exists in the shadow of its predecessor, but where the Robin Williams film took regular right turns into purest schmaltz, here director Jon Favreau made sure to keep things sparky, even in those parts where the dreaded relationships business had to be taken care of.

What happens is that Danny finds a two-player board game named "Zathura: A Space Adventure" in the basement and brings it up to share with his uninterested and derisive brother. It's a mechanical game where a key must be turned and a button must be pressed, and little card pops out of the slot in the side when you do so. On reading the card, something will usually happen, so, say it tells you your ship has been hit by a meteor shower, then that's precisely what will occur in the comfort of your own home. Except your own home will not be so comfortable with that meteor shower, or a rampaging robot, or an alien invasion force inside it.

Considering the film takes place in what is essentially one location, there is a high level of invention here, with some hoary old sci-fi conventions (not the kind where people dress up to meet their favourite stars) employed as if the house, which is now drifting through space, were an actual space ship in an old fifties movie and the characters were truly adventurers. Not that they're too keen on the idea, but with the sister put into cryogenic suspension in the bathroom (which might explain why she is taking so long in there), the boys are on their own and have to learn how to get along with each other.

Yes, it could be insufferably corny, but its ingenuity is so well handled that Zathura has claim to being an undiscovered gem, if such a term can be used for a fair-budgeted Hollwood fantasy. Unsung would perhaps be a better word, as this is a finer film than Jumanji, with some excellent special effects, acting from a small (literally in some cases) cast that never hits a wrong note, and some decent laughs into the bargain. If this had been made first, it might have been a modern classic for fans of such things, but as it stands it is too often regarded as a pale imitation, a sorry state of affairs. Never heavy handed where it counts, the film has a lesson of tolerance and knowing where your strengths lie, and was an altogether refreshing example of what a deceptively modest kids' movie should be in the twenty-first century - or beyond. Music by John Debney.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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