Wednesday, November 30, 2005

ZATHURA: Fun ride for the family

(fantasy adventure)
Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * *

Jonah Bobo in Zathura
ZATHURA is the space version of Jumanji, the 1995 ‘board game’ movie based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book. If you have enjoyed Jumanji, you would definitely like Zathura which is also written by Allsburg. The 10-year gap between the two movies has brought about better special effects and more eye-popping visuals.

In Jumanji, each roll of the dice brought a new herd of wild animals stampeding into a quiet American suburban community. In Zathura, the players are blasted into space — as far as Saturn — and can only return to Earth when a winner is declared. Allsburg, by the way, is not only into board game fantasies. He is also the author of last year’s visionary adventure, The Polar Express, which took us to the North Pole for Christmas.

Walter Budwing (Josh Hutcherson) and his younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) are typical siblings who fight each other over almost everything, especially for the attention of their father (Tim Robbins). One Saturday, when Dad is at work, the two brothers are left at home with their older sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart) who tells the boys: “Don’t wake me up unless the house is burning down.”

The brothers fight, Danny hides in the dumbwaiter and is lowered into the basement.
There, Danny discovers the Zathura board game and persuades Walter to play with him. The older boy says he would rather watch TV. Playing the game by himself, Danny draws a card: “Meteor shower. Take evasive action.” Almost at once, meteors start zipping through the roof into the living room — and right through the floor.

Yep, the thrill ride has begun — and the kids find themselves and their home hurtling into space!
As the game continues, the players are besieged by a demented robot, giant heat-seeking lizards called Zorgons, and are shot at by alien spaceships. The boys are joined by an abandoned astronaut (Dax Shepard) who helps protect the kids from intergalactic hazards.

There is an unwritten ‘rule’ of the game that whatever happens, the players would not be physically hurt. Incredible things may happen, the house may get pulverised by meteors and gunfire, but the kids will survive. As soon as she wakes up, Lisa gets frozen into immobility in the bathroom when a card, 'Shipmate Enters Cryonic Sleep Chamber', is drawn.

As expected, there is a lesson in the movie — that the brothers must co-operate rather than compete with one another, to complete the game — but director Jon Favreau (who made Elf in 2003) refrains from being too preachy or sentimental. He keeps the pace fast and hot with lots of excitement and energy. Unlike in Jumanji, where the players seemed two-dimensional, here, we have well-developed characters who seem like kids next door. And with such amazing computer-generated space scenery, Zathura is an absorbing fun ride for the whole family.


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