It could easily have felt like 'Jumanji' reheated for the next-gen crowd, but in the hands of a capable director like Jon Favreau, 'Zathura' actually outdoes 'Jumanji' in almost every conceivable way. 'Jumanji' was adventurous, but 'Zathura' is doubly so.
'Jumanji' faced the movie's protagonists with a board game that brought the jungle into the home in life-threatening ways. 'Zathura' has the same basic premise. A board game that changes the world around the players, threatening to kill them at every turn. Only this time it's a space adventure. The house and the people inside, brothers Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo) along with their sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) blast off into outer space to face aliens, meteor showers, and killer robots.
Walter and Danny don't get along, which is one of 'Zathura's many strong points. It perfectly captures the hatred competing brothers have for one another. Walter and Danny are competing for their father's (Tim Robbins) attention. Walter is athletically inclined, while Danny is more of an imaginative young person. It's hard for their dad to spend equal time with both of them when he's obviously more inclined to liking the stuff that Walter enjoys doing. Here are two kids that will remind you what it was like to fight constantly with your brother. Two kids who can't help but fight with each other, even though they have been blast into outer space and are in the midst of fighting an alien race of lizard people. Isn't that how it always is? It doesn't matter what's going on, but when two brothers engage in a competitive game they'll do anything to win.
'Zathura' also excels with the practical effects employed by Favreau and his team. It isn't a movie that relies solely on CG effects. Puppets and animatronics offer a semblance of realism that adds to the whimsical feel of the movie. The house, like in 'Jumanji', takes a beating. Here it's subjected to deadly meteor showers, rampaging robots, and exploding blasts from an alien spaceship. Watching the house get obliterated turn after turn is part of the fun. This is the kind of game kids wish they could play, and the kind of game that kids are constantly making up with their own imaginations. Board games (and videogames) will never be able to rival the imaginative power of a child's mind.
The game not only takes its two players on a rocking space adventure, it also helps them learn how to deal with each other. Who knew a magical board game could have the same affect as years of family therapy?
'Zathura' is a fun, surprisingly adult-oriented adventure, one which has the ability to delight parents and their children at the very same time. The young actors on display here are one of the many highlights of the movie. Their sibling rivalry appears as genuine as they come. Almost as if they have been brothers all along. Favreau's attention to detail shines through here. He's not worried about the scientific mumbo jumbo, like what would happen to an uncovered body in the vacuum of space. There's no need to worry about details like that, this is only a game after all. A fun one at that.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony has packaged 'Zathura' together in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack. Along with the 50GB Dual Layer disc you also get a DVD copy of the film. It's also purportedly a region free release.
'Zathura' looks better than 'Jumanji' does, but there still seems to be some heavy processing going on with the 1080p picture, especially in the latter half of the movie.
Filmed in 2005, 'Zathura' has more HD "pop" than 'Jumanji.' Fine detail looks good during many of the action scenes. From the scarred metal exterior of the killer robot, to the slimy scaly skin of the Zorgons the detail looks great. In the second half of the film, when the kids are facing the second attack from the Zorgons, and the house and lighting is a bit darker, their faces take on a waxy feel. Like DNR has been used without much judicial restraint. Take a look at Kristen Stewart's face during these scenes. It's hard to make out any sort of fine detail on her face, other than the somewhat natural skintone. This look is par for the course. Skin consistently has an unrealistic look to it.
Other than that, the rest of the movie looks as good as it can. Colors are rich and vibrant. Bright oranges from rocket boosters and explosions never burn too hot. Blacks are pretty deep for the most part, except for a few times towards the end where they appear slightly flat, crushing out detail. This isn't a demo-worthy presentation, but it's a solid catalogue release from Sony.
Here's where this release really excels. 'Zathura's DTS-HD Master Audio mix is a booming, rollicking affair. The minute the kids are transported to outer space in their house, the audio kicks in and never lets up.
Surrounds are engaged for much of the movie with the sounds of incoming blasts from the Zorgon's ship, or the crunching of wood and plaster as a maniacal robot slams through the walls. John Debney's lively, adventure-centric score keeps you engrossed in the movie as it's pumped through the soundfield. Clarity and fidelity are top-notch. Dialogue is wonderfully reproduced, and even during the most hectic action scene, not a word is lost.
This is the kind of mix you'd expect from a fun, action-filled adventure film. There isn't anything that I can pick out to really nit-pick here. It's a solid, satisfying audio presentation that draws you right into the movie and never lets you go.
'Zathura' isn't just 'Jumanji' for a newer crowd. It's a wholly unique, thoroughly entertaining and thoughtful film that understands the often tense dynamic that exists between brothers. Childhood is a competitive time, where brothers tend to vie for their parent's attention. They try to outdo each other, and they've learned the art manipulation in its finest and most destructive forms. It's actually pretty amazing how much the relationship between Walter and Danny resembles real-life relationships between two siblings with an axe to grind. The audio is the real treat here, transporting you to space on a thrill ride of fun and explosions. Along with its lengthy and informative special features, 'Zathura' comes recommended.