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.


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