a critiQal film review Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)

Plot: 6-year old Danny (Bobo) and his 10-year old brother Walter (Hutcherson) begin playing a game Danny finds in the basement - and immediately discover their house is now floating miles above Earth. To get back home, Danny and Walter need to work together to finish the game - or else this could be the last game they ever play.

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  • ...an exceptional cast and seamless visual effects help make this an enjoyable follow-up to Jumanji, yet different enough to stand on it's own.

Have you been waiting for a sequel to Jumanji (1995) since it came out? If you’re like me, you’ve always wanted a sequel to that film, but you were always a little worried – after all, what more could Hollywood do with the game that hadn’t been done in Jumanji (1995)? And then there was Zathura…but that wasn’t exactly a sequel.

Thankfully, the creative people behind Jumanji (1995) have gotten together and found a way to create something similar, but at the same time keep it fresh and interesting. With Zathura, the filmmakers decided to change the game – literally. This time around, it’s a space adventure game, rather than the jungle game of the Robin Williams-lead film. What an idea! That opens up whole new worlds of adventure and fun.

But, would Zathura be just a wannabe Jumanji (1995), or would director Jon Favreau and pals be able to create a film that would be able to stand on it’s own?

Young kids as the center of a film are sometimes the breaking point of films, but thankfully Zathura isn’t one of them. Youngsters Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo do a surprisingly good job as the leads of the film, and will easily pull the audience into the film. They share a real camaraderie, and are easily identifiable as brothers – a good trick, since they aren’t even related off-screen.

While most of the movie rests on their shoulders, they do get some help from a hilarious performance by their sister, played by Kristen Stewart. Add in a fun performance by Dax Shepard as a mysterious astronaut and a quick performance (basically a cameo) by Tim Robbins, and you’re looking at quite an entertaining cast.

Chris Van Allsburg, a rather prolific children’s author, originally wrote the children’s books that Zathura and Jumanji (1995) are based on (not to mention recent Christmas hit The Polar Express (2004)). He seems to have a gift for writing plot-driven children’s books that translate beautifully to the big screen.

With Zathura, he took the fun idea behind Jumanji, changed the game (and setting), and created something fresh and exciting. The basic plot is simple: two kids have to survive a game that creates problems for them with every turn.

Moving from the jungle setting of Jumanji (1995) to the space adventure setting of Zathura gave the book and the film whole new avenues to explore – this time around, there are meteor showers, gravitational pulls from huge planets, cryogenic freezing, a robot and even man-eating lizard people! The action is plentiful, but there is quite a bit of comedy thrown in as well, making Zathura fun from beginning to end.

Of course, a movie like Zathura could be full of great performances and an exciting storyline, but if the visual effects weren’t up to par, the viewers still wouldn’t buy into it totally. Thankfully, both director Jon Favreau and the visual effects creators knew this going in, and really stepped up to meet any challenge the storyline presented.

Whether it’s something small, like making the game board look believable, or something big, like a Zorgon attack, it’s all done with every attention to detail. The visual effects crew really outdoes themselves in creating effects that never falter in the slightest, so the viewers are easily able to really immerse themselves into the story, and let the film take them along on it’s fun ride.

With an exceptional cast (including it’s two youngest stars), a Jumanji (1995)-like storyline (with a different setting) and seamless visual effects, Zathura is a must-see for any fan of that other film – and everyone else. Even if you haven’t seen Jumanji (1995), this film has enough going for it to make it worth your while.

Or, make it a game night (like that board game company keeps suggesting), and watch Jumanji (1995) and Zathura back to back. A worthy duo full of wit and action the whole family will enjoy.

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