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Laramie Movie Scope: Zathura

A great little family film

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 2, 2005 -- “Zathura” is a great little family film with equal measures of humor, adventure and heart. The story is based on a children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote “Jumanji.” I was not a big fan of the movie “Jumanji” so I had my doubts about whether this film was worth watching. I finally went to see it and was pleasantly surprised. Although the story is similar to that of Jumanji, the movie is crafted about as well as it possibly could be. It is well-acted. It is lovingly directed by Jon Favreau (“Wimbledon”) and the visual effects are stunning.

The two main characters in the film are brothers Danny and Walter (played by Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson of “Kicking and Screaming,” respectively). The two brothers don't get along. Walter ignores his younger brother and treats him disrespectfully. When their recently-divorced father (Tim Robbins of “War of the Worlds”) has to leave for work, he leaves the two boys in the care of their older sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart of “Catch That Kid”). Danny finds an old mechanical game called “Zathura: A Space Adventure” in the basement and tries to get his brother to play. He won't, so Danny starts to play the game by himself. Instantly, the house in transported into outer space and the house and its occupants come under attack by various space menaces. The boys must finish the game in order to get back home.

The house is hit by meteorites, the boys are attacked by a large robot and by Zorgons, a race of lizard-like creatures bent on finding carbon-based fuels. The boys also rescue an astronaut, (Dax Shepard of “Without a Paddle”), who helps them deal with the space menaces. The game is like a real space adventure, except that there is air and warmth in outer space and the house maintains electricity, gas and water pressure without any visible means of supply. The game itself is never damaged despite a lot of destruction all around it. There are also some inexplicable time travel elements in the story. Supposedly, this time traveling is achieved by going through a black hole or worm hole, but this kind of passage would destroy the traveler. So this is not a science fiction movie, but rather space fantasy.

All the actors give believable performances, despite the unbelievable situations they find themselves in. The digital effects in the film are spectacular, as are the traditional special effects. The Zorgons are obviously people dressed up in lizard suits, but this fits in the with the retro theme of the movie. The Zathura game looks like it came from the 1940s or 1950s. The menacing robot looks like artist's conceptions of robots from the same time period, as do the Zorgon spaceships. Having real three-dimensional creatures and a robot (actor John Alexander dressed in a robot suit) in the film gives it a look of reality often missing from films where such effects are done exclusively with digital animation. The actors, robots and other creatures interact in the film in a more real way than actors pretending to interact with lifeless digital images pasted in months later during post-production. The Zorgons and the robot were created by the award-winning Stan Winston Studio. It is a splendid use of combined old and new technology.

The film has some actual character development in it. Danny and Walter learn some valuable lessons from their experience playing Zathura. Kids may actually learn something from this film. Adults will also enjoy it. This is one of those increasingly rare films that the whole family can enjoy together. It is funny without being crude and it is touching without being overly sentimental. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)