Zathura: A Space Adventure

Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart and Tim Robbins
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 26 June 2006

Two squabbling brothers are propelled into deepest, darkest space while playing a mysterious game they discover in the basement of their old house. On their fantastic journey, they are joined by a stranded astronaut and must survive meteor showers, hostile lizard-like aliens, a rocket-propelled robot run amok and an intergalactic spaceship battle. Unless they finish the game and reach the planet Zathura, they could be trapped in outer space forever...

Does the above synopsis sound familiar? Jumanji in space anyone? Well, to be honest that's exactly what this movie is. Zathura is inspired by the illustrated book by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote Jumanji and The Polar Express). And, as much as I enjoyed this film (in a family entertainment sort of way) I still couldn't help but be surprised at the cheek of Van Allsburg in basically representing Jumanji but with the characters and situations changed... just a little bit.

What's similar? Well, firstly both movies revolve around a mysterious board game. Then there's the fact that after every time a move is made something from the game comes alive in the real world; the house that the gamers are in is slowly destroyed as the game progresses; someone that once played the game years ago, and got stuck inside it, comes out of the game to help them... do you need any more proof?

If you loved Jumanji, then you'll enjoy this film too. There are plenty of little subtle jokes like when an urn on the mantelpiece smashes Danny shouts: "Grandma" and when Walter turns the TV over so that his brother can't watch Spongebob Squarepants, Danny mutters "Tarter sauce" - a mock swear word on Spongebob.

The film also pays homage to several movies, but by far the most obvious is the scene where Danny opens the front door to reveal that they are in outer space. This shot is almost identical to the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the young boy opens his front door to welcome the aliens. John Debney's music also lifts elements from other sci-fi movies. There's a hint of both James Horner's Star Trek scores, as well as John Williams's Star Wars music.

The child actors are pretty impressive - especially Josh Hutcherson as Walter. And it was interesting to learn that Frank Oz performed the voice of the Robot.

There are loads of extras: audio commentary with Jon Favreau (director) and Peter Billingsley (co-producer); Race to the Black Planet (10 mins featurette that looks behind the scenes - especially at the director's desire to use more practical effects and stay away from CGI); The Right Moves (15 minute behind the scenes featurette that is a continuation of the first featurette); The Cast (13 minute featurette that looks at the main actors); Miniatures (9 minute featurette looking at Stan Winston's models and puppets); The World of Chris Van Allsburg (13 interview with the author of the original illustrated book); Zorgons, Robots and Frozen Lisa (17 minute featurette that looks at how they designed three key elements of the movie); Making the Game (14 minute look at how the actual board game was designed); and trailers for other DVD releases. There's also a very short Easter Egg, which is incredibly easy to find.

All of the extras are worth watching, although the interview with Van Allsburg was amazingly frank. He was quite honest about how his books only really inspire the film makers as they are so low on content and the screen writers flesh out his tales. The Zorgons, Robots and Frozen Lisa featurette was also quite interesting as we get to see how all three of these effects were achieved.

At the end of the day, this is a good family movie that has something to offer for everyone. Well worth giving over an evening to.

Darren Rea

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