Zathura: A Space Adventure Review
Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are spending the weekend with their father (Tim Robbins). When Dad is suddenly called into work at short notice, the boys are left to their own devices. Danny finds an old game called Zathura in the basement and begins to play with it. But this is no ordinary game - meteors trash the living room and the house is sent off into space…
At the showing I attended, a young boy at the end of the row where I was sitting, summed this film up perfectly: “It’s exactly like Jumanji, except it’s in space!” And that’s the review in one sentence. Jumanji was released ten years ago, and was at the time pretty much a showcase for what was possible with computer effects. As such it was diverting enough, but the very nature of technical showcases is that they date rapidly, and I can’t imagine many people revisiting the film for any other reason. (I wouldn’t say it was the best role of Kirsten Dunst’s teenage years either.) Now, a decade later, and also based on a picture book by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote Polar Express), we have Zathura. Like its predecessor, it’s a series of elaborate setpieces strung along a very thin plot. There’s a very small cast: until a spaceman (Dax Shepherd) arrives, the two boys are on their own for about half the running time, with their sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) cryogenically frozen for a fair chunk of the film.
Unlike Jumanji, which had Kirsten Dunst and Bonnie Hunt in significant roles, this is very much a boys’ film. Those who detect a trend in Hollywood to “defeminise” family films and to insist on male role models – at least in this case the mother is absent via divorce rather than death – will have plenty of material to work on here. Even without taking that into consideration, the two lead actors are as annoying as a pair of bickering brothers could be, and nearly an hour in what is virtually their sole company would wear all but the most doting adults down. As for the film, it’s ninety minutes of diversion for the eye, while the brain and the heart take a hike.
N.B. The BBFC have cut Zathura by 39 seconds to secure a PG certificate, to a remove a scene of potentially dangerous imitable behaviour (using an aerosol as a blowtorch to set fire to a sofa).