Saturday, February 11, 2006


Board game anyone? The creator of Jumanji is back, this time with a new little game that's ready to shoot you into a galaxy far, far away in the new family movie Zathura.

Danny (Jonah Bobo) is a likable 6-year old with a vivid imagination and who tries his best to get his older brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) --an obnoxious boy who can't wait to grow up-- to play with him. After their father (played by Tim Robbins) leaves them alone in their old house for a short while, Danny stumbles upon an old board game called Zathura, an old fashioned space adventure game. After he fails to get Walter interested, he decides to play anyway and takes a turn. His piece, represented by a little rocket, moves a certain number of spaces and he gets a card that says "Meteor Shower". What follows is an actual meteor shower inside the house which the boys barely escape. When the danger is apparently past, Danny takes a look outside, only to realize that their house is now hovering in the middle of outer space. Now they have to play the game and finish if they ever want to return home.

If you had the chance to watch Jumanji back in the 90s you might think that the storylines are very similar, and they are. In Jumanji a couple of friends played a board game which unleashed on them a bizarre jungle with stampedes taking the streets, children transforming into monkeys, and a wild Robin Williams who had been stuck in this world for years. This time we also have an ally character, an astronaut played by Dax Sheperd (Punk'd) who seems to have the upper hand on this world. In Jumanji, the boys were forced to play the game which became ever more dangerous until one of them got to the end.

The question you have to ask is... yeah, Zathura is basically a new version of Jumanji... is that so bad? Yes, the similarities are many, but Zathura manages to spin a tale of its own spinning around the tense relationship of the two boys, one who blames the other for everything wrong in his life (there is a especially moving moment where Walter even blames Danny for their parents divorce, and little Danny hurling the game and running away). The only problem is that perhaps this time the story doesn't really come round full circle. While Jumanji wrapped up to a very good conclusion, Zathura seems to leave a few questions unanswered, in particular those that have to do with the astronaut.

The basic problem with Zathura is that anyone who has seen Jumanji knows where things are heading up to the very end. Even the astronaut's role in the story becomes apparent after a few minutes of him appearing.

However I don't want to base my opinion of this film solely on its predecessor. Zathura is a nice family movie, well made, nicely acted, and with an interesting storyline. Might not be Spielberg, but director Jon Favreau (Ben Affleck's lawyer partner in DareDevil) manages to get a decent product which doesn't fall on boredom, with some very good moments (particularly the first time we see the house in space) and with a production that centers mroe on the story than on CGI and overdone effects (the creatures and effects in Zathura are old fashioned, which goes very well with the "vintage" feel of the game itself).

A movie with flaws, maybe not as good as the original but which manages to bring a nice story with not many pretentions and a happy ending. A nice matinee family movie. Nothing more, but then, no need for it to be anything more.


A group of college guys who used to have night terrors in their childhood are stalked by creatures who live in the dark and who want to take them away into their world in They an under-the-radar horror flick which supposedly had Wes Craven behind it, though his presence isn't quite obvious beyond the "Wes Craven presents" tag.

Julia (Laura Regan) is a down to earth co-ed about to major in psychology. She splits her time between studying and her paramedic boyfriend Paul (Marc Blucas, from Buffy, Season 4) and all seems to be smiles and kisses until Julia receives a call from a childhood friend called Billy. When she goes to meet him, Billy, a freaky guy full of scars and zombie-like bags under his eyes, goes on a paranoid rant about things in the dark trying to catch him, only to put an end to his life by blowing his brains off in front of Julia. Short after, at Billy's funeral, Julia meets two of Billy's friends (Ethan Embry and Dagmara Dominczyk), who like Billy and Julia used to have night terrors when little. From that moment, Julia begins to be followed by fierce creatures that are slowly taking over the country in an ever-spreading darkness and who want to take her away with them.

They starts very much like another "boogeyman movie" Darkness Falls, with a little boy scared of the dark and a mother who tells him there's nothing to be afraid of. The initial sequence, as quite a few in the movie, is pretty effective. The creatures in this film are pretty decent, they remain in shadows most of the time and don't seem to be overdone by the CGI department. This is a movie that not only relies on the visuals (the slithering movements of the creatures, especially in the subway sequence, is really good) but also in sound.

However not everything's green in this valley.

The real problem with They lies on it's story, which seems so forced that you want yell at the writers. This movie is plagued with characters making stupid moves. For example, Ethan Embry is caught in his studio by the creatures who are able to cause blackouts wherever they go. Here you have this guy trying to escape with his life. So what do you do when you want to escape a building where the power is hanging on it's last thread? Well this guy has no better idea than getting inside an elevator, where, what do you know, he gets stuck. Later, in one of the worst character moves ever, Julia runs out of her apartment trying to survive the night so the best place for her to go is... the subway! Not only that, after she gets on the subway station she gets freaked out because the gate closes. It doesn't end there... she later takes a train and when the train stops, she gets out and onto the tracks and walks into the tunnel, and yeah later she tries to stop another train by running in front of it. If the creatures didn't get her, I would have taken my shot.

But apart from the characters the film's plot tries to hold water and fades. From the beginning we are told about these power failures all over the country which seem to be escalating to a point where citizens are asked to save all the energy they can. This marks the taking of these creatures of the dark. However we are later told that only people who have gone through a very traumatic event can see and be hunted by these creatures.

Sad, because not all of the movie is bad. The film has good moments and an enigmatic ending which could have been much more powerful if the rest of the movie had been treated in a different way. However, They doesn't get to take off and in the end we are left with a boring movie with some good moments. Another proof that sometimes the direction is not all there is to mind. Story weighs a lot too, and in the case of They, it lacks strength.