MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure/ Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, John Alexander, Derek Mears, Douglas Tait, Joe Bucaro, Jeff Wolfe; Voices of: Frank Oz/ Runtime: 101 minutes
I think it is safe to say that every so often I have had the pleasure of witnessing a slice of cinematic pie that gives audiences a thoroughly enjoyable throwback cinematic outing that manages to give audiences a wonderful reminder of just what being entertained is all about courtesy of taking them to another world where the film helmer has given us a slice of cinematic pie that feels like a section of imagination brought vividly to life with an equal degree of respect and fondness for imagination and/or creativity. The reason I bring this up is because for me the 2005 slice of cinematic pie that is Zathura: A Space Adventure is a slice of cinematic pie that fits that to a t. Indeed it might not be a masterpiece to any degree whatsoever, but there is no denying that iconic film helmer Jon Favreau’s movie is one that oozes a fine degree of energy like not a lot of other family friendly movies can whilst also giving us a slice of cinema that is the best kind of larger than life riveting entertaining possible. Indeed this slice of cinematic is so well-done and so fun pure and simple that a lot of the issues that I have with this film, quite a few of those being nitpicks from a science point of view, just manage to be vaporized as if they were being beamed on board the Enterprise by Scotty. Suffice it to say that Zathura: A Space Adventure is a brilliantly done and 110% riveting slice of cinematic pie that zeroes in on being as fun and engaging for an audience as possible. At the same time though, it also has a terrific scope, is overflowing with passion, constructed with top-notch special effects work and wonderfully drawn-up characters, and is one that is watchable time and time again due in large part to being given to us by a film helmer whose degree of passion and creativity is truly second to none.
The plot is as follows: Zathura tells the story of a dynamic brother duo by the names of Walter and Danny who are anything but dynamic. That is because this brother duo are always engaged in the potentially deadly art of combat to try and get the precious amount of time that their constantly working dad has. This is because the 2 really only get a few days every week to potentially spend with him, and yet despite their best attempts, dear ol’ dad really can’t ever seem to beat the work addiction when they are supposed to be spending time with him. As a result, we see that this brother duo take to engaging in competition with each other as we see that the older of the 2 Walter is becoming more and more with the passage of time exasperated with younger brother Danny who, due to their father’s seemingly constant absence, turns to (pesters the heck out of) his older brother to give him attention. Therefore we see that one day, in his attempts to get Walter to stop putting all 110% of his attention on the daily episode of Sports Center that Danny pulls out an old school-style board game by the name of Zathura that he managed to stumble upon in the basement of their house. Not thinking much of it, Walter agrees to play. Yet immediately following Danny getting the game set up and the game getting underway, we see that the game big surprise whisks both brothers and their whole house, including their older sister Lisa, to the planet of Saturn and their living room comes under siege from a horrific meteor shower. Suffice it to say that Danny has managed to get the attention of his older brother now and our dynamic brother duo soon discover that only if they finish the game can things go back to normal (gee I wonder where I’ve heard that before). However that might be easier said than done especially as the house as the game goes on is all but annihilated all around them and the very real possibility that they could die continuously stares them in the face with every move on the board that they make….
Now Zathura: A Space Adventure might be grandiose, loud, and not exactly subtle, but its reason for being here is extremely obvious. Indeed here is a slice of cinematic pie that has not only been constructed to appeal to the inner kid that we all have to some degree or another, but also has the ability to balance out the perilous with the magical and nostalgic as well. Put another way: this is what it would like if the fantasy genre was brought vividly to life since this slice of cinematic pie is a top-notch example of boyhood imagination that works as well as it does not only due to the presence of robotic beings, extraterrestrials, and explosions galore, but also due to the fact that the characters themselves are conjured up with the same degree of lively energy and creativity as everything else in the movie. Yes there are moments in this film that might make the logical human being in you try to push you to hate on this film, but since a film like this is one that is powered mostly through the power of imagination, I feel it is safe to say the rules of science don’t always need to apply. Thus, whilst this film is most assuredly one that younger viewers will enjoy and then some, I also think this slice of cinematic pie will do a great job at luring in adults as well due to tapping into a part of their heart which remembers the time in their lives when the power of imagination helped them feel like they could accomplish just about anything they put their mind to. Suffice it to say then that this slice of cinematic pie is in equal degrees moving, intelligent, otherworldly, but also rooted in integrity in a manner that you don’t see that often in the world of movie magic.
Now it should be noted that film helmer Jon Favreau does a wonderful job of utilizing his trademark lively yet smooth helmsmanship that helps to make sure the tempo of this slice of cinematic pie is on point whilst also underscoring the movie’s fantasy-rooted narrative and contributing to it a feeling that this has a purpose for being here. Not only that, but Favreau’s stylish yet on point work behind the camera helps to gift this movie a present day bent even as he also is able to ensnare an old school vibe simultaneously. A vibe that is possible due quite a bit to wonderful work from the production team to say nothing of utilizing special effects work that feels in equal measure both present day and a tribute to another period of time respectively. I mean yes the characters and the time period this film is set in was present day 2005 since the boys do use modern “lingo” with one another. At the same time though, the boys are engaged in a game that features ideas and looks like something that was available on the market by the Parker Brothers in the 1950s. To that end, it should be noted that this incredible insertion in the visuals that constituted what the past thought the future was going to look like manages to be delightfully nostalgic and quite effective as well from both a visual effects and thematic point of view respectively. It should also be noted that the cast in this film also does a wonderful job of giving weight to this film and in the process check the final box in a film that is already a wonderful mix of narrative, throwback style, and jaw-dropping effects work. Indeed as the 2 brothers at the heart of the narrative, I feel that Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson portray these 2 boys with a wonderful mix of passion and realism in such a manner that even more accomplished thespians who portray siblings have trouble pulling off. We also get a terrific and very under the radar turn in this from Dax Shepard as a space-faring astronaut who has a secret or 2 up his sleeves that the game sends to aid our brother duo at a certain aspect in the film as well as a brilliantly-inspired casting choice in Tim Robbins as the boys’ dear ol’ dad who has a lot of trouble not only giving both his boys enough time, but also in giving his home and work lives the proper amounts of time that they are due respectively.
All in all I think it’s safe to say that although Zathura does have quite a bit in common with at least the 1995 Jumanji in regards to the fact that the two do seem to be quite similar when looking at their individual narratives (a fact that makes a lot more sense incidentally when you know that both Zathura and Jumanji were not only written by the same author, but also meant to be set in the same universe), iconic film helmer Jon Favreau’s 2005 slice of cinematic pie is perhaps slightly more well done when looking at things from a genuinely fun and construction perspective though in all fairness this movie could have easily benefitted from a performance from Robin Williams. At the same time though, I don’t know of many movies like this that would NOT have benefited from that man. Be that as it may be, it should be know that this ultimately is also a genuinely well done tiny child-oriented sci-fi adventure that is also a slice of cinematic pie that the whole family can enjoy as well. Yes in all fairness this does kind of take a few liberties with some of the more elementary scientific truths out there, but this is a movie that is a fantasy at heart not a serious analysis on just how things operate in the far reaches of space so just take it as such and go where the ride takes you. Indeed at the end of the day, Zathura: A Space Adventure really is a wonderful slice of cinematic pie that gets right what it needs to whilst also proving to be constantly engaging no matter if it’s your first or your 101st time watching this. On a scale of 1-5 I give Zathura: A Space Adventure a solid 3.5 out of 5.