REVIEW: “Zathura”

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (UK) - Youtube

Jonathan Montague, Contributing Writer

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The bright idea was brought up that I could review nostalgic films that deserve more love or hate, depending on the film. I figured “Eh, why not?” (Just kidding, I loved it.) I had no idea where to begin until I decided to watch “Zathura” on a whim. I did a little research and I noticed how it underperformed at the 2005 box office, which is quite the crime because I have to say it has held up surprisingly well.

The movie centers around two young brothers, Walter and Danny, played by a young Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo respectively, who just cannot seem to get along. In the basement, Danny happens upon an old and mysterious clockwork game called Zathura. Once they start playing, however, the game comes to life as a meteor shower hits their living room and they are transported to the far reaches of space! The only way home is to finish the game and reach Zathura, that is if they can survive all the obstacles in their way, including each other.

Obviously, comparisons are going to be drawn between this film and the 1995 film Jumanji, starring the late great Robin Williams. Those comparisons are completely well-founded, but also should have been expected from the beginning. First, both films are based on children’s books written by the same author, Chris Van Allsburg, with one being a sequel to the other. Second, “Zathura” capitalized on this in its marketing by referencing said connection as much as the could. That said, while this film is not quite as good as the 1995 classic, it does come incredibly close.

The story is decently paced, taking a little time to establish our main characters, who feel like genuine kids. Once the adventure begins, everything accelerates, keeping you on the edge of your seat. Despite that, the film never loses track of the emotional element, which is the relationship between Walter and Danny. One wants nothing else but a life without his brother, while the other just wants to be treated as a brother. They bicker and fight and it comes to a head a couple times, but over the course of the movie, they learn to appreciate each other. The film makes few attempts to be funny, instead just drawing from the insane situation created by their narrative, which works very well.

The acting from the two boys is about as good as one could ask for. Josh Hutcherson displays clear talent from a young age and has excellent chemistry with his co-star Jonah, who also shows much promise. It is clear they are having the time of their lives on set and their energy permeates throughout the adventure. There are moments where their performances could have been improved with some better direction, but nothing too damaging. The only other actors to have significant screen time are Dax Shepard and Kristin Stewart. Shepard brings a more grounded performance than his usual work, which is welcomed and well-delivered, while Stewart is okay as the more generic teenage sister character.

The visual effects, which films like this rely on, do not disappoint. In fact, they still look somewhat decent to be from twelve years ago. Of course, nothing looks phenomenal, but despite a somewhat smaller budget, the spectacle will still wow the average moviegoer. The musical score is nicely composed, elevating certain scenes with the right amount of bombast for a small-scale space opera, while staying silent for other scenes to let them play out.

Overall, I think “Zathura” deserved a much bigger audience at the time of its release when compared to other films such as “Chicken Little.” Solid performances and a grand sense of spectacle have helped this film become a cult classic among young ones of that time and I hope that it will continue to be shown to the next generation as the right way to blast off on a space adventure.