Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard
Director: Jon Favreau
Running Time: 101 mins
Zathura is an American film about two bickering brothers who find themselves in outer space after their house is thrust into orbit because of a mysterious board game in the basement.
This is a sort of spiritual sequel to Jumanji, taking many of the same plot premises and using them in a different environment. You may think that that would be a bad point, but in fact, Zathura is an ever better take on the story than Jumanji. Upbeat, imaginative and brilliantly fast-paced, I thought Zathura was an absolute heap of fun, and one of the best kids’ blockbusters of the last decade or so.
By far the best thing about this movie is how imaginative it is. It was always great to see animals running wild in Jumanji, but Zathura’s space setting gives it a lot more variety and unpredictability. Just like the sort of adventure you’d think up in your head when playing a board game as a kid, this film takes you on wild rollercoasters, involving exciting action throughout, and clever little puzzles that you watch the characters solve.
In that, it’s a wonderfully entertaining film, and works well for young kids and adults with a nostalgia for the wonder of childhood imagination. However, so much of the film could not have been achieved without some excellent special effects.
A lot of these mid-2000s kids’ blockbusters are starting to look a little dated around now, but that’s not the case with Zathura. Heavily reliant on CGI, suspending a house in the deep reaches of space, the film actually does brilliantly to pull loads of outlandish ideas off convincingly. It’s no Gravity or Interstellar, but its visuals are consistently impressive and effective, helping to pull you in even further to the excitement at hand.
Along with the excellent visual effects, Jon Favreau’s directing is fantastic here. Making brilliant use of a small real-life space, given that 99% of the film takes place inside the boys’ house, he gives the film a real sense of stakes as they try desperately to get back to Earth, as well as the upbeat and light-hearted atmosphere that makes it all so fun to watch. Paced excellently, Zathura is at times a riveting watch, and Favreau’s directing is a big part of that.
The biggest draw of this film is its imaginative quality and its visual extravagance. When it comes to the story itself, I can’t really say it’s anything spectacular, but it is still pretty entertaining. Taking a very similar premise to Jumanji, Zathura occasionally suffers from a sort of repetitive strain injury as the characters keep going back to play the game, which could have been presented better, but its faster pacing allows for the action and adventure side of the story to work a whole lot better.
The rest of the story focuses on the relationship between the two brothers. Again, it’s a plot line we’ve seen before, but it is still engaging throughout, largely due to the performances by Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo. Holding the film almost entirely on their own for the best part of an hour, they’re convincing and entertaining, and display some of the best performances from young actors you’ve seen in quite a while.
Overall, I really enjoyed Zathura. A better take on of the Jumanji-style board game adventure movie, it’s a fast-paced, imaginative and visually exciting space adventure, whilst also featuring some great directing, good performances, and an entertaining story, which is why I’m giving it a 7.6.