Film Reviews


By • Nov 11th, 2005 •

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Columbia Pictures / Radar Films
MPAA rating: PG / Running time: 113 minutes

Clever space adventure with dazzling special effects.

Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, ZATHURA in no way should be compared to JUMANJI wherein Robin Williams chewed up the scenery and jungle animals trashed a house. ZATHURA is a clever space adventure with dazzling special effects.

Ten year old Walter Budwing (Josh Hutcherson) and six year old Danny Budwing (Jonah Bobo) are spending the weekend with their newly divorced father (Tim Robbins) in his Craftsman mansion. Danny feels under-appreciated by his father and keeps annoying Walter. These two are normal, uncontrollable kids with an agenda – “Entertain us. We’re bored.” When Dad has to beg for a few hours out of the house to attend a business meeting, he should have done what all parents do: offer a bribe. Instead, he asks his teenage daughter Lisa (Kristen Stewart) to keep an eye of them. Completely disinterested in her brothers, she informs them to leave her alone. Danny goes hunting in the basement and finds an old board game called ‘Zathura.’

Danny begins to play the cursed game board. Immediately, a meteor hits the house and the game is on. Screenwriters David Koepp & John Kamps keep us off-balance and these boys have no safety net. The game takes them to outer, outer space around the rings of Saturn. Not only is the robot unfriendly and will not obey any commands, there are giant lizards, the Zorgons, looking for food. The Zorgons make the ALIEN monsters look like backup dancers for Madonna. The Bulwing house is blasted to shreds to the delight of children everywhere. (Now, if it was Mom’s house, the boys would have been worrying about staining the carpet and really freaking out.) One of the Zathura cards brings an astronaut (Dax Shepard) who, like that space dude in 2001, played the game and has been wandering around space for fourteen years.

Note to Jon Favreau: You will soon be one of Hollywood’s most sought after directors. Not for bringing in a fantastic adventure with very cool special effects and a fancy concept, but for making “Punk’d” Dax Shepard appealing and sexy. You did it to Vince Vaughn many years ago with SWINGERS. Agents will take notice. You’ve got the magic and you weren’t even trying with Shepard. (For me, you have joined the elite, small group of directors – Tony Scott, Michael Mann, and Rob Cohen – who can make a male actor transition to ‘sexy.’) If only Ben Affleck had had faith in you he wouldn’t be looking for a political career now!

ELF was made on the cheap (the mogul lived in a tenement apartment in Brooklyn!) but now it can be said that Favreau had something to do with its success. Not all Will Farrell movies have been slam-dunks (BEWITCHED was nauseating).

I watched ‘The Apprentice’ promotion for ZATHURA, but it was not necessary. The “task” – make a NYC float advertising ZATHURA – only brought to my mind that the film was desperate for publicity to lure in an audience. The filmmakers should have trusted their product – it outshines the depressing CHICKEN LITTLE.

Walter Budwing: Josh Hutcherson
Danny Budwing: Jonah Bobo
Astronaut: Dax Shepard
Lisa Budwing: Kristen Stewart
Dad: Tim Robbins

Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriters: David Koepp & John Kamps
Based on the novel by: Chris Van Allsburg
Producers: Michael De Luca, Scott Kroopf, William Teitler
Executive producers: Louis D’Esposito, Ted Field
Director of photography: Guillermo Navarro
Production designer: J. Michael Riva
Music: John Debney
Co-producer: Peter Billingsley
Costumes: Laura Jean Shannon
Editor: Dan Lebental

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