Zathura: A Space Adventure

Zathura: A Space Adventure


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

If you are a boy and have an older brother, you will love this movie, because it exposes the great unspoken lie of family life - siblings hate each other. How kids survive childhood is a mystery. There should be blood on the nursery floor. Regularly.

Walter (Josh Hutcherson) is 10. His brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) is six-and-three-quarters. Guess who never gets to play with the toys?

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What is so right about Zathura - let's not forget that director Jon Favreau wrote Swingers - is that it may have a message ("Don't wish your brother dead"), but the trademark Hollymush sentimentality, as essential to minor league Americana as sugar is to fizzy drinks, has been put on a starvation diet and told to shut up and stay out of it.

There are similarities to Jumanji - both based on books by Chris Van Allsburg - in the sense that it is about a magical board game. Left in dad's new (old) house for a couple of hours in the care of sulky teenage Lisa (Kristen Stewart), who can't be arsed to get out of bed, Danny finds the Zathura box, hidden away in the basement. It is a Thirties clockwork race game, in which two tin spaceships take turns to advance along a tramline track. Wherever they stop a Z card pops up and the player receives a bonus, or forfeit. In fact, what happens is that the house has been transported into space, at the mercy of the Z cards, and no one goes home until somebody wins the game.

This sounds too stupid for words, but it's not. For one thing, it stops Walter and Danny from killing each other and freezes Lisa into a solid block of ice and introduces The Astronaut (Dax Shepard, who must be Zach Braff of Scrubs's half brother), who helps them out.

Because this is an ancient game, the galaxy is ancient, too, and the robot is made of iron and looks decidedly clunky and The Zorgons, who live off flesh and travel in Jules Verne-style cigar-shaped spaceships, are like mythical creatures - half man, half lizard.

For a PG certificate, Zathura can be scary wary. The Zorgons are no cuddle fluffs and would not feel out of place in the caves of Mordor. Also, the game that rules their universe has a tendency to hand out surprises, like poisoned cookies.

Favreau is good with comedy and knows how to frighten the grown ups. The performances are anything but annoying. In fact, they are charming, without being mumsy, and cute, without being showy-off.

As a sleeper success, Zathura might bring board games back into fash. You never know. It's more fun than Monopoly.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2006
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A magical board game sends a house into space.
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Iain Macleod ***1/2

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: David Kieff, John Kamps, based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg

Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Tim Robbins, Kristen Stewart

Year: 2005

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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