Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are brothers, six and ten years of age, respectively, who cannot help but squabble about every little thing. Regardless of the activity, one feels the need to triumph over the other. When their father (Tim Robbins) has to leave to make a special copy of a picture for his work, Danny finds a curious two-player board game underneath the stairs of the basement. Excited, he asks Walter to play. Although Walter refuses, Danny turns a key, pushes a button, and a card is released. On it is a warning of a meteor shower. A few seconds later, tiny rocks begin to bombard their new home. It appears the game has real repercussions.
Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, “Zathura: A Space Adventure” is exciting, fun, and has an obvious but important lesson about siblings learning to work together and love one another. The early scenes are very amusing because Danny and Walter reminded me of my brother and I back when we were younger. Although Walter is portrayed as the insensitive half, I understood Walter’s attitude about not wanting to play with his little brother because Danny is not very good at playing sports and he has the tendency to cheat or cry when things do not go his way. When they whine to their dad, as shrill as they sound, it feels very close to actuality. I was surprised that the two are not shown ending up on the floor and throwing punches at each other.
As the unlikely duo take more turns, there is more humor accompanied by increasingly impressive special and visual effects. For example, Lisa (Kirsten Stewart), Walter and Danny’s sister, is rather cold toward her siblings. She would rather sleep and look pretty for her upcoming date after she is asked by her dad to watch over the boys since they have the tendency to be at each other’s throats. Later on, her coldness takes on a physical manifestation in which she is put into cryonic sleep by the game. Ironic happenstances as such allow us to breathe between the more intense scenes.
However, I wished that the fast-paced action is not impeded by the arrival of the astronaut (Dax Shepard). Although the astronaut has some funny lines dispersed throughout and is very useful in quickly getting the kids out of dangerous situations, I was more interested in the lightbulbs that go off in Danny and Walter’s heads as they are challenged by whatever the board has in store for them. It might have taken them some time to extricate themselves from their predicaments, but it is preferable because this is their story.
The film, based on the screenplay by David Koepp and John Kamps, takes its biggest risk by introducing Zorgons, big lizards with teeth that have an affinity for heat. As they take over the house, our protagonists are reduced to hiding and running away from being eaten. The creativity and energy of “Zathura,” directed by Jon Favreau, appeals to kids as well as adults because it is thrilling and quite smart. It is a fantasy, action-adventure that is rooted in something real.