Thursday, November 10, 2005
Review by Sombrero Grande
Recently I stumbled across Flight of the Navigator, a Disney sci-fi movie from the ‘80s that I used to watch endlessly with my Cub Scout buddies when it first came out on VHS, and was surprised to find how well it held up to my adult eyes. Zathura is destined to be that same kind of movie, a quality-crafted future classic beloved by kids now and sure to stand the test of time when they get older. Granted, Zathura isn’t for all kids. It’s far too intense for little ones, but bigger kids should find it a blast and I’m betting their parents will too.
Two feuding brothers are left to their own devices in their dad’s creepy old house when they stumble upon an antique motorized tin board game called “Zathura.” As they begin playing, the brothers quickly discover that whatever happens in the game actually happens to them as the house blasts off into space and they encounter carnivorous aliens, meteor showers and a homicidal robot! If that sounds suspiciously like Jumanji to you, there’s good reason. Chris Van Allsburg, who wrote the original book that Zathura is based on, also wrote the book Jumanji. The extremely flawed film version of Jumanji did absolutely nothing for me, but thanks to the vision of director Jon Favreau, Zathura is less “Jumanji...in space!” than it is “Jumanji...but good!”
I’ve praised Favreau before on this web site, so I won’t repeat myself except to say that he still hasn’t disappointed me yet with his directing abilities. And Zathura is quite a stretch from both Elf and Made. Favreau’s experience with comedy helps make sure all the jokes hit in this one, but by-and-large this is a solid sci-fi adventure flick. I’m only disappointed he didn’t cameo in this one like he did in Elf. Then again, when there’s only five total on-screen roles to be had, I can easily understand why he didn’t.
The acting was solid all around, especially from the two kids (Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson). Favreau remarked at this year’s San Diego Comic Con that he wanted to use practical (prop-based instead of CGI) effects whenever possible and I can say it was a great decision. Personally I’m tired of seeing computer-generated-everything in movies ever since Jurassic Park, and all the work that gets poured into making Jar Jar Binks look like he’s actually on the set with Ewan MacGreggor is no match for having actual Zorgon costumed creatures walking around with the actual actors on-set. The same goes for the Vogon characters in this year’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; it’s just more inherently believable as a moviegoer to watch face-to-“face” interaction on screen, not to mention more timeless. Tell me those awful CGI animals in Jumanji don’t look terribly dated now. The CGI that is in Zathura is seamlessly integrated with the live action and does more to add neat visual touches, like the bicycle that constantly orbits the floating house, than it does to actually carry the story.
With all its triumphs, this fantastic voyage is not without a few missteps, however. Some questions are left unanswered after all is said and done, like, how was the robot able to transform from a height of several inches to become a massive, solid six feet or more? There are some adventure story clichés thrown in (such as the whole conveyor belt thing) and many moments when the plotting gets a tad too predictable, but these are really minor quibbles with an otherwise excellent presentation. Zathura is another triumph for Favreau and a wonderful piece of escapist entertainment. I’m predicting in another ten years or more it’ll still be as good as it is today, but don’t let that stop you from rushing out to the theater now to see it!