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on November 11, 2005
Yes, it does have the same basic premise as Jumanji (both books were written by the same guy, after all!)-- board game wreaks havoc on innocent children who happen to have a few problems other than an insane board game. But Zathura is about 100 times better. First of all, the characters aren't overshadowed by 1) huge special effects and 2)big name actors who take over the movie. This is a movie with heart, and a great way to start the holiday season, I might add. Remember how surprisingly good the fun, holiday movie Elf was? This is like that, and both are directed by Jon Favreau. This film does a marvelous job of making an implausible situation seem plausible, while giving the characters some realness.

Two young boys, Walter (age 10) and Danny (age 6) are constantly fighting. Danny just wants someone to play with. Walter could care less. Their father (played by Tim Robbins) is newly divorced, which only adds to this family's stress. There's also an older sister, Lisa, who sleeps until 2 pm and doesn't care about anyone but herself. When Danny finds a mysterious game in the basement called Zathura, he begs Walter to play. Walter doesn't feel like it, so Danny begins to play anyway. On his first spin, the game spits out a card that reads, "Meteor Shower. Take evasive action." Danny can't really read, and it's not until their living room is being pelleted with meteors that the boys take evasive action. Danny runs in circles screaming. Eventually, when the house if floating in the middle of space, they rescue a stranded astronaut (played wonderfully by Dax Shephard!), who reveals that he also once played the game and that's why he's a stranded astronaut. There's actually a twist in this movie about the astronaut, which I totally didn't see coming. I had to explain it to my little cousins because they didn't really get it, but they still thought it was cool.

In the words of a three year old movie critic prodigy, this movie is "really really cool, kinda scary, but really cool." She even said it was better than Jumanji! And if you can't take my word for it, take hers. This is a very sweet movie that explores not only the far reaches of space, but the relationship that siblings have with one another. Very good and PERFECT for kids (except a couple swear words, nothing to really worry about though), I HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMEND this movie!!
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VINE VOICEon March 30, 2007
A highly entertaining family film about the inadvertant adventure of two boys and their teenage sister, "Zathura" is a space game the bumbling brothers find one day while stationed at dad's house (the parents are divorced and dad gets parenting time in this flick.) After about 15 minutes setting the scene of the brothers intermittently fighting, cutting down each other, failing to get along, and being bored at dad's house, dad goes to the store, the younger borther finds the game and, wow, does the movie go into outer space.

The game requires each player to turn a knob which tells them where to move, after which their spaceship correspondingly advances on the board, and a card pops up with a message. Essentially, whatever comes up on a popup card in the game happens to the boys in real life. Right away, their dad's house is hoisted to the universe where they are variously attacked by spacecraft, hone in on and rescue a lost astronaut, try to survive a deranged robot, fail to be fried by passage too close to somebody's sun, and a half-dozen other calamaities. Oh yeah, their sister becomes cryonic during one of these gambits and spends time as a frozen statue. That astronaut turns out to be somebody pretty special, too.

Jon Favreau's direction, the outer space staging, and the set designs are all sumptuous in this highly-evolved film that is basically for kids...but my wife and I laughed throughout and stayed involved all the way to the end. There's a moral to this tale, of course, that is predictably homespun. Tim Robbins plays the dad in the opening and closing scenes; he must have been filming elsewhere when he made this flick.

One unanticipated devlopment from this game, er, movie -- the score reminded me so much of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" that I soon bought a newer version of that music. Don't know if that one's any good; I'll grade it here later. This movie is definitely a winner for anyone that is or once was a child and has (or had) an imagination. Even if you don't have it anymore, you'll remember what it was like having one watching this flick.
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on June 16, 2011
I went into this movie at first not expecting much, and if you look at it on paper that's exactly how it seems. This observation starts changing with each new scene in the movie opening up a very pleasant experience all around. Zathura is a spiritual sequel/remake of Jumanji, and aside from the whole story being based on playing a board game there are almost no similarities between the two. That being said Zathura is a great film about sibling rivalry and bonding that unfolds in an ever-expanding universe of imagination and wonder. It's a family film best suited for young adults and young at heart.

Here's the plot. Two brothers decide to play an old wind up board game found in the basement. Every time they come to an event on the game it comes to life. This being a sci-fi game those events come in the forms of a rampaging robot, menacing aliens, a wayward astronaut, meteor storms and other sorts of mayhem that systematically trash their house and challenge the brothers to outrun or out-think their way out of every situation. In the process the brothers build a stronger connection with each other that ends with a very satisfying, even if ultimately stereotypical, happy ending.

The story is laid out in such a way where the viewer is learning new things as the plot moves forward. The set up of the characters and their lives, playing Zathura, finding solutions on the way. All of this is done in a way that empathizes with the point of view of the kids. Notice I didn't say "through their eyes". This isn't a movie trying to pander to younger audiences with goofy gimmicks. The storytelling is mature while at the same time very accessible. As an aside this story just isn't evolving around the family. There is a universe that unfolds from the game that resonates more than just being various creatures and events to build excitement. It comes out as a living, breathing entity of itself that feels like it will go on long after the boys finish with their game.

At its core this movie is a science fiction film, and the imagination put behind that element on Zathura is really nice. Since the game itself seems to be from the 50's era the robots and spaceships in the film have that nostalgic and classic sci-fi look. If you like the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers look back in that day you will love this homage to the style. The alien baddies on the film, the Zorgons, are a pretty well developed concept with the creatures having a bit of depth in it more so than just a generic bad guy. They also are the coolest looking reptile alien I have seen.

The special effects for this movie are beyond excellent. Director Jon Favreau (of Iron Man fame) decided to use as much practical effects as possible and the end result is so visceral and tangible that it shames all of those movies who opt for pure CGI for their effects. Real walls come tumbling down. The rocketships and embattled house in space are real models. The explosions and flames are real. The Zorgons (designed by legendary Stan Winston in fact) have real actors in them along with animatronics. When you see a robot running in a kitchen knocking down dishes it's really a guy in a bulky costume slipping all over the floor and tearing up real props. Sure computer effects are used to touch up that robot and add digital backdrops. This amount of tactile interaction makes what you see feel a lot more real. It makes all the difference.

The acting is impressive and shows some real keen strategy in the casting. The youngest kid (played by Jonah Bobo) has the big eyed wonder that moms melt for and had that underdog demeanor that all younger brothers feel at one time or another. The older brother (played by Josh Hutcherson) is a classic "boy too old to be a kid and young to be a man yet trying to reach that plateau". Both child actors play off their parts with a kind of conviction to the part that impresses me when I see it in adult actors. They are playing kids with kid's complicated lives, and you believe that to the hilt. Then you have their sister (played by Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame). Her time on the screen is not as long as the brothers, but her interaction with them as the teenage sister sells the performance of that complicated relationship a teen would have with younger siblings. The only other main role was the astronaut (Dax Shepard). Dax plays the part with a natural and casual demeanor that says he's used to being in the middle of all the craziness. In other words the acting is as well produced as the special effects and story in my book.

Zathura didn't do too well in the box office with a lot of people dismissing it as Jumanji without the star power. More the pity, as this movie to me feels like it's much better than Jumanji's special effects-laden showcase, yet many didn't get a chance to experience that. Now you can get the movie on a Blu-Ray and DVD combo pack, and it includes all of the great special features found on the DVD along with an exclusive extra. Visually I don't think you can get any better on this sort of film. The details from the live action and models really come out. This BD-50 disk (announced region free) is packed with language options with a DTS-HD English 5.1 master audio track and 5.1 Dolby Digital in five languages (Spanish, French, Japanese, Portugese and Thai). Subtitles are in all these languages plus Chinese (traditional Mandarin I think), Korean, Dutch, Indonesian and Arabic. Here are the features:

Audio Commentary - With director Jon Favreau and producer Peter Billingsley. They have really good chemistry on this commentary and you get a score of interesting information as well as some entertaining banter.

The Right Moves: The Making of Zathura - Goes over the book the movie is based on and how the production wished to honor that book. They also go over the human aspect of the film and in capturing that element in the story.

Race to the Black Planet: A Visual Effects Documentary - This is a really cool making of featurette that shows how they did all of those practical effects I was talking about as well as the CGI and digital elements of the film. You get to see some cool pre-production footage and how they tweaked it in post production.

The Cast - Actor profiles and their comments on making the film. Some cute anecdotes like how Bobo was loosing his baby teeth during filming and they had to get a bridge made for him.

Zorgons, Robots and Frozen Lisa - A featurette on Stan Winston and his company's contributions to the movie.

Making the Game - A little documentary on the game Zathura and what thoughts went behind designing it.

Miniatures - Remember when I said they used miniatures for the spaceships and exteriors of the house in space? Well here you get to see those efforts and get some insight on why they were the best choice.

The World of Chris Van Allsburg - Kind of a tribute to the author of the book the movie is based on. It goes through a little biography of Van Allsburg.

Race Through Space: Virtual Board Game - This is a Blu-Ray exclusive. While all the other featurettes will be on both Blu-Ray and DVD this one is only on the BD. This is a two player game where you race to beat your opponent on a digital board game by answering film related trivia questions.

Zathura is a grossly under-appreciated film that has gotten lots of good feedback from people who saw it, but unfortunately not many people actually did. Sci-fi fans, with families or without, do yourself a favor and get this flick. The Blu-Ray has a lot of great extras and will likely look awesome on top of that.
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VINE VOICEon November 13, 2005
I took my 5 1/2 year-old nephew, a kindergartener, to see "Zathura". I expected Michael, as someone who's been exposed to a steady diet of Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and Spider-Man, as well as to Peanuts, the Wiggles and the Muppets, to enjoy the sci-fi elements. Predictably, he spent the second half of the film cowering in his seat, latched onto both of my arms... and he walked out of the theater at the end loving every minute of it, completely jazzed about the experience. We spent most of the 10-minute walk back talking about outer space, aliens, and how it was all fiction, and he drew a lot of pictures of aliens (most of whom looked like Muppets) once he got home.

As others here have said, the language used by the two boys in the movie (10 and 7) is a little disconcerting. However, they use the same words I was exposed to at that age, and comparable to the language Michael is exposed to at home. Michael didn't walk out of the theater cursing, so that part of the movie did not bother me.

The scare factor is somewhat intense. The predictable monsters don't show up until the final two reels and aren't what I'd call terrifying, although that's the part of the movie that had Michael cowering. There's also a big clunky '50s-style robot, but when you find out who provides the voice you'll realize that this wasn't meant to be terrifying -- not if anything to say about it Jon Favreau had. The images of the house floating through space, alongside asteroids and suns, is what will really stand out for the younger viewer.

This is basically a kids' movie directed by Jon Favreau, so naturally it's going to seem odd. Based on the uncomfortably short shorts worn by the teenage girl in the movie (and she has nothing else to do at all), I'd say the target audience is boys 9 to 12. There's also a surprisingly deep plot twist involving another game player that the boys meet as their house drifts through space. I had trouble explaining that to my nephew, although his grandmother didn't understand it either.

My final verdict is that it's safe to take a smaller child (6-ish) to this movie, and they will not take anything negative away from the experience. It's no loss if you make them wait another three years before seeing it, though.
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VINE VOICEon August 4, 2006
Those who criticize "Zathura" for being a copycat "Jumanji" are apparently clueless about the Van Allsburg's books. "Zathura" is a sequel to "Jumanji", it is about what happened when the Budwing brothers opened the game box that Peter and Judy discarded at the end of "Jumanji". Early board games were often designed with two-sided boards so that the game pieces could be used to play two different games-usually of the same type. "Zathura" was the flip side of the "Jumanji" game board and the ones the brothers choose to play (because Walter did not like jungle games). So it is supposed to be another "Jumanji".

Having grown up with this same sibling age dynamic (six and ten) I was not surprised at the amount of yelling, anger, and resentment that goes on between the two brothers. I was however surprised that anyone would find this sort of thing entertaining. While their divorced father (Tim Robbins playing the only sympathetic character in the film) is away at a meeting, the younger brother (Danny) finds an old Zathura game in the basement. Based on those old 1950's tin toys it involves two tin spaceships on a track racing around space. Each spin of the dial determines the distance the ship will move on that turn and a card is ejected detailing what happens to the ship at that point of space.

As Danny and Walter face the challenges of space they discover that they can work as a team and they even develop some affection for each other (a more unrealistic idea than anything they actually encounter in space).

Like the source book, the movie adaptation of "Zathura" targets kindergarten to Grade 5 children. Like "Sharkboy and Lavagirl", older viewers will find very little of interest other than a fun production design and nice effects.

Unfortunately "Zathura" it is not as pure as that film which uniquely refused to compromise its "for kids only" story. "Zathura" does compromise, as the producers attempt to expand their audience by creating an older sister (Lisa played by Kristen Stewart) who was not a character in the book. While Stewart is fine in this role and even provides some comic relief, it is rather disturbing that the producers chose to turn her into a pubescent sex object, blustering around the house in her underwear for most of the film. Van Allsburg's illustrations are the best part of his books but this image is not one than he has ever published.

The DVD has some excellent special features, which even older viewers will enjoy. The best is an interview with Van Allsburg in which he discusses his influences and his other books.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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VINE VOICEon February 16, 2006
Open up your imagination to the world of Zathura. Kids and adults alike will revel in this great story about two young brothers who find an old board-style game called Zathura that literally launches them and their home into outer-space. Danny and Walter are the brothers and when their father leaves them alone with their teenage sister for a few minutes, worlds collide and their home becomes a space-bound asteroid, but not because of any interstellar cataclysm. It's all related to the game Zathura that the younger Danny finds and begins playing.

Their father's beautiful arts and crafts style home is magically transported to the nether reaches of space and as the boys play the game - in an attempt to get back to Earth - more and more bizarre occurrences happen. A meteor shower pummels the house. A defective robot tries to kill the elder brother, Walter. Zorgons, weird, space-faring lizard-men, track their home because of the warmth radiating off it. A stranded spaceman joins the duo and has much more vested in the game than we could ever imagine. Walter and Danny's sister goes into cryogenic sleep for "five turns" only to awaken in the midst of this spaceflight odyssey.

Can the boys make it home? Will they be able to finish the game? Can they put aside their sibling rivalries and become loving brothers? Why is the stranded astronaut helping them? What will Dad say when he gets home and finds out there is no home?

_______________________________________________________________________________________

There's been a lot of controversial talk amongst film-o-philes about this movie and JUMANJI. There's no doubt that there's an incredibly strong similarity between the two (a house being overrun by animals versus space creatures; a family in crisis that's forced to come together; a board game that recreates a fantasy; a happy ending that gets fixed-up before adults arrive back in the picture; and so on).

Regardless of those striking comparisons, Zathura is a really fun film to watch. The two brothers are believable, and when they fight it reminded me of the great arguments I had with my brothers when I was growing up.

The amazingly beautiful arts and crafts home. It was painful watching it get destroyed piece by piece. Sitting on a gimbal, too, it was surprising (watching the special features on the DVD) to learn that director Jon Favreau used minimal digital special effects and built miniatures, etc. in order to get the desired effects for the film.

The ridiculous nature of the story allowed me to suspend disbelief and just go with it. We all know that fire doesn't burn in outer-space (they light a sofa on fire and kick it out the door), and that a person could never survive fifteen years floating around in space in a spacesuit (the astronaut), but so what.

I was also a tad surprised about the astronaut. I'd surmised quite a bit about the movie as it continued (being able to guess pretty easily what was going to happen next and why) but when the true nature of the stranded astronaut came to light, I felt a bit choked-up (yeah, yeah, I know).

So sit back and enjoy the film, and try not to get overly critical about its obvious relation to JUMANJI.
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on March 10, 2006
On no basis other than the fact it turned up on my Amazon.com "Recommendations" screen when I was noodling around for another reason, I put this movie in my shopping cart and included it in my next order.

When the grandchildren (a sophisticated 6-year-old debutante, her hyperactive 5-year-old brother, and the perpetually teething 10-month-old) yelled for a movie last night, I plunked it in the DVD player and told them "This is too scarey for little kids. You're not allowed to watch it."

The next hundred minutes was spent with the first-grader peeping over my shoulder (while hiding under a blanket), the pre-schooler alternately bobbing up in front and ducking down behind the arm of the sofa, and the baby gazing at the screen in wonder, the whole crew as much involved in the snarling and sniping of the brothers as in the hissing, clanking menace of the Zorgons.

Today I'm finding sketches of defective robots all over the living room, and the older kids are conspiring to lock their 14-year-old cousin in the bathroom to see whether or not she can be put into cryonic sleep for five turns.

This one is definitely a keeper.

...
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on January 18, 2015
Beware of language with young children. We enjoyed the movie and it is creative but the language is a concerning. The boy says "biatch" and it didn't take my ten year old long to know what he meant was "bitch". So you might want to preview it so you can explain to your kids that there are some bad words in it. Sad that Hollywood has to ruin a perfectly good movie
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on November 19, 2013
My 9 year old son had been wanting to see this movie so bad, and I just knew that it would be a movie that he would love, so we went ahead and just bought it for him. I was right -- he loves the movie and it is now one of his favorites!
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on February 17, 2006
Ten years after Jumanji (1995) the idea of a board game reanimating itself by reemerging in the refurbished space cadet version called Zathura comes to life. The idea of reusing the idea initially seems clichéd, especially when it comes from the same source, as Chris Van Allsburg wrote both stories. Initially, I also thought that director Jon Favreau had run out of ideas, as he had to give the concept a face-lift. Regardless of what Favreau thought, it will undoubtedly hurt the films novelty. However, the film still succeeds in bringing forth a terrific tale of forgiveness, family, and hope for the whole family.

The six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) often finds himself being far less skilled in several activities common for children than his slightly older brothers Walter (Josh Hutcherson). Danny's skill discrepancy has become a major issue in his life and has brought on low self-esteem, as his brother exploits the situation by showing off. Their father, performed by Tim Robbins, tries to balance his attention equally among them, work, deadlines, and the time they do not live with their mother. It is a difficult job for him while trying to provide the best possible home for them. Nonetheless, Danny finds himself physically and emotionally bullied by Walter, as he most of the time finds him annoying. Yet, they spend a lot of time together, which forces Walter to pay attention to Danny and play with him. On occasion they are left on their own, as they are in this story when their father has return to work and leaves them under their older sister's supervision. However, she is far too self-centered and focuses most on getting her beauty sleep.

After one of the sibling's skirmishes, Walter sends Danny to the basement where he discovers an old board game called Zathura. Danny brings the game to the living room where he wants to play the game with his brother, but Walter is completely uninterested. Without anyone to play with, Danny opens and begins to play by himself, awe how the game initially operates. After his piece has moved by some old fashion machinery inside the game, a card materializes out of the game. The card says, "METEOR SHOWER. Take evasive action." Unaware what he activated, Danny seeks shelter together with his brother, as the living room is bombarded by small burning meteors that cut through the room like rocks through air. In shock, the two brothers begin to realize what has just happened, as they must now finish what Danny has set in motion.

It sends Danny and Walter on an amazing journey where they are about to test their affection and caring for one another. The dangers that emerge could have costly consequences, but with the right decisions they might just get through the perilous adventure of the Zathura game. Throughout the story, the audience will learn several valuable lessons of forgiveness, understanding, and compassion among others. What is even more intriguing is that the story is told through the eyes of a child, which enhances its fascination for the younger viewers. Furthermore, the hazardous events in the film bring about an adult and childish atmosphere at the same time, which undoubtedly further children's interest to the story. In retrospect, Zathura might present an already used idea, but the story is far more elaborated than Jumanji. It makes me wish that this were the first time I saw the concept, which might have made me love this already terrific science fiction tale even more.

Jon Favreau truly loves his calling, and Zathura radiates this throughout the whole film. However, the reuse of the coming alive board game from Jumanji hurts the overall cinematic experience, yet it is still a wonderful tale with suspense, drama, and entertainment for all ages. In essence, Zathura is a definitely a film I would strongly recommend to younger viewers and for older people to see in order to find their younger selves once again.
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