ZATHURA: A SPACE
I was not a fan of “Jumanji.” Beyond the great special effects it was a rather boring, and confusing lollapalooza with sub-par performances, and a cheesy ending. So when the unofficial sequel “Zathura” arrived in theaters, suffice it to say my skepticism was tantamount to my skepticism of “Sharkboy and Lavagirl.” It looked well intentioned but basically looked like an empty spectacle. In a world filled with “Hoot,” “Sharkboy and Lavagirl,” and “Sleepover” which are the considered the crème de la crème of children’s fare, “Zathura” is a welcome change of pace.
“Zathura” not only re-captures the magic of board games which, as a child, were about the next best thing to video games, but he also re-visits old science fiction devices like killer robots, the dreaded Zorgons, space ships that look like ornaments from the fifties, and the classic battle of good and evil. “Zathura” is like a big game of pretend, and adults will enjoy how deep down into our imaginations Favreau gets. The film is filled with great performances including Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo as the two inadvertent heroes who find themselves thrust into orbit after discovering the board game in the basement.
As per the formula of “Jumanji,” the game is a supernatural orbit into another world filled with all sorts of dangers, but never too frightening. Dax Shepherd is both funny and memorable as the lost astronaut who happens upon the orbiting house and helps the two keep out of trouble while playing the game. But the aspect that makes “Zathura” worth watching for all audiences are the themes of loss, and familial troubles, and pain. The brothers fight for a reason, and that reason comes into play when the game becomes hectic.
I just wonder how long Kristen Stewart can go on playing the same characters over and over in these films. She plays the disgruntled older sister yet again, and she really fails to show any range in her career. The film as a whole loses steam in the climax when a major plot twist is revealed. And major as it may be, the film just winds down to a whisper, and fails to continue the excitement and awe present from the very beginning.
Favreau's second foray into the family genre is an ambitious and much appreciated effort, more so than "Elf" was. With great acting, engaging characters, a fun plot, and underlying themes of dysfunction, "Zathura" is a much better film than its predecessor "Jumanji."