6 out of 10
Giant space lizards, burning couches and indoor meteor showers, "Zathura" is a suspenseful sci-fi adventure that carries a powerful moral message. Based on the story by award-winning Michigan author and illustrator Chris Van Allberg ("Jumanji," "The Polar Express"), it tells the story of two brothers, Danny and Walter Budwing, who take an extraordinary journey through time and space, forever changing their relationships with their parents and each other.
Life is hard for Danny (Jonah Bobo). His parents are divorced, his sister (Kristen Stewart) is mean and his 13 year old brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson), whom he worships, is better than him at everything. While spending the week with their father, Danny finds a dusty abandoned boardgame in the basement. Hoping it will interest Walter, he opens the box and unsuspectingly rolls the dice. Releasing a torrent of meteors and launching their home into space, the two find themselves far from home with only a tin boardgame, a hungry astronaut and their wits to help them. After finding their only way to reach home is through co-operation, the two normally quarrelsome brothers become close allies and gain an understanding of each other.
A continuation from the final page of Van Allberg's Jumanji, Zathura is similar - from loved ones trapped in the past to a boardgame which can only be stopped by continuing to play. Despite this, John Kamps, in only his third screenplay in ten years and the David Koepp renown for stories with fresh ideas and no plot like "Jurassic Park," "Snake Eyes" and "War Of The Worlds," it is a much more suspenseful, interesting and masterfully adapted. Containing frozen sisters, abandoned and ravenous astronauts and out of control robot similar Robbie the Robot from "Lost In Space" voiced by Frank Oz ("Star Wars," "The Muppet Show") it is sure to fascinate kids, but is still too short on plot to be aimed at a more mature audience.
One of the picture's strongest elements is that actor-turned-director Jon Favereau ("King of Queens," "Wimbleton") made an effort to create "Zathura" in the spirit of family-friendly early science fiction and fantasy pictures such as Steven Spielburg's "Goonies" or "E.T.". By blending minimal CGI with excellent props and sets, he designed a world filled with both live action and special effects but to which an audience can connect. The special effects team, including Stan Winston, J. Michael Riva, Joe Bauer, Gary Martin and Jon Belyou, who have worked on films ranging from Edward Scissorhands and The Island to Jurassic Park, brought various sources of inspiration to the picture. Shot on a soundstage in Culver City, they rebuilt the Craftsman-style house from wood, cardboard and plastic and using shaker and gimbal sets, they were able to film the tilting rooms, shattering walls and splintering floors to simulating the gravitational pull of Tsouris 3, Zorgon attacks and meteor scenes. Hutcherson and Bobo also were eager to perform their own stunts.
While somewhat slow to start, the story is given character and momentum by a cast including stand-up comedian Dax Shepherd and quickly rising star Hutcherson. Similar to pictures such as "Big," Favereau treats his young performers as adults, allowing them to develop on screen and with a good instinct for comedy, inspires memorable interactions between Danny and Walter.
Better than it's 1995 predecessor starring Robin Williams, adapted by Greg Taylor (better known for cheap knock-off Christmas flicks like "Prancer," "The Christmas Box" and "Santa and Pete") and Jonathan Hensleigh (responsible for the morally vaccous "Punisher"), it is generally a clever and fast- paced ride most suitable for a family outing.
Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies