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Jon Favreau
Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz, John Alexander, Derek Mears
Writing Credits:
Chris Van Allsburg (book), David Koepp, John Kamps

Adventure Is Waiting.

This follow-up to Jumanji follows Danny and Walter Budwing, two brothers who discover a strange box while playing at a park. Inside the box is a jungle-themed board game (in the original, the game's animals came to life) and a second board, which is marked with a path to a purple planet called Zathura.

Box Office:
$65 million.
Opening Weekend
$13.427 million on 3223 screens.
Domestic Gross
$28.045 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 2/14/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Jon Favreau and Co-Producer Peter Billingsley
• “Race to the Black Planet” Featurette
• “The Right Moves: The Making of Zathura” Featurette
• “The Cast of Zathura” Featurette
• “Miniatures and the World of Zathura” Featurette
• “The World of Chris Van Allsburg” Featurette
• “Zorgons, Robots and Frozen Lisa” Featurette
• “Making the Game” Featurette
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Zathura: Special Edition (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 27, 2006)

Prior to 2003, Jon Favreau was best known as the actor/writer involved in 1996’s cult classic Swingers. Actually, I suppose he’s still best known for that movie, but in 2003, he demonstrated directorial talent when he helmed the hit Christmas flick Elf. That feature took in a very tidy $173 million and gave Favreau some clout behind the camera.

For his next feature, Favreau chose to stay in the realm of kiddie fare. Adapted from the Chris Van Allsburg book, Zathura introduces us to a divorced dad (Tim Robbins) with part-time custody of his kids. This brood includes moody teen Lisa (Kristen Stewart), 10-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo). The two boys bicker a lot, mostly because Walter resents Danny’s presence and blames him for their parents’ split.

After Dad steps out of the house for a few minutes, Danny gets Walter to play a board game he found in the basement: Zathura. This soon takes a weird turn. When Danny gets a card that mentions a meteorite shower, one takes place inside their house.

As the game continues, the boys find their home lifted from its moorings and aloft in outer space. They figure out that the only way to get back to Earth is to complete the game. They proceed to attempt to do so despite all sorts of related dangers.

I liked Zathura the first time – back when it was called Jumanji. While not a carbon copy of that 1995 flick, Zathura sure does resemble it. I suppose we can’t really call it a rip-off of Jumanji, though, as both films came from Van Allsburg works.

The similarities do make me wonder what Van Allsburg was thinking. Artists regularly self-plagiarize, but this is ridiculous. Zathura makes minor changes to the Jumanji template but not enough to dispel the impression that the author did little more than rewrite his earlier work.

While that lack of creativity grates on me, I will say that I think Zathura entertains in its own right. It probably isn’t as good a film as Jumanji, but it manages to develop its own strengths. One comes from the portrayal of the kids. In Jumanji, the lead children usually act like little adults. In Zathura, however, they regularly resemble actual kids. Admittedly, I believe they’d be more freaked out by their circumstances than we see here, but Lisa, Walter and Danny usually behave the way they should for individuals in their age ranges.

Actually, some of the movie’s most satisfying moments come before the kids find the game. The Danny/Walter interaction is interesting to see, as is the way Dad handles them. It smacks of reality in a way not normally found in movies, and this proves interesting to watch.

As for the game segments themselves, they muster a lot of energy for the film’s first half. After that, I feel they begin to grow tedious. The initial hour or so comes across as inventive and creative, but the second part appears less inspired and more repetitive.

In addition, the “been there, done that” factor becomes an issue. Since we’ve seen Jumanji, we have a good idea what kinds of events will befall the kids. We also know exactly how the flick will end. This makes the movie less compelling just when it should become most exciting. Frankly, I felt like I simply wanted it to end, since I didn’t anticipate any surprises along the way. Actually, we do get a pretty big surprise in the third act. I won’t spill those beans, but I want to comment on it nonetheless. I thought this twist made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Maybe someone on this DVD will explain it and I’ll buy it, but based on two screenings of the movie, I think the surprise is nothing more than a nonsensical gimmick.

Despite its flaws, I will say I mostly enjoyed Zathura. My biggest complaints stem from the feeling of familiarity given the film’s direct reflections of Jumanji. If that issue doesn’t bother you, I expect you’ll like Zathura. None of this will probably matter to the kids in the target audience anyway.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

Zathura appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the movie’s recent vintage, it presented an inconsistent picture.

Many of the concerns connected to sharpness. Occasionally connected to the presence of light edge enhancement, more than a few shots appeared a bit iffy and tentative. Much of the movie looked nicely detailed and distinctive, but I noticed more softness than I’d like. I witnessed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws essentially were absent. I thought the movie seemed awfully grainy at times, but otherwise it lacked any kinds of defects.

In regard to colors, Zathura emphasized a vaguely golden tone much of the time, though it also went for slight reds too. This wasn’t exactly a lush, vibrant palette, but the tones seemed well-represented by the transfer. Unfortunately, blacks tended to be a bit mushy, while shadows were too heavy. The low-light scenes could appear tough to discern. Perhaps some of that occurred intentionally to hide the limitations of the visual effects, but I didn’t recall such a dim image when I saw the movie theatrically. Overall, this image looked quite good at times, but the mix of concerns knocked down my grade to a “C+”.

On the other hand, I found almost nothing about which to complain when I examined the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Zathura. Actually, there was only one problem I noticed: a few lines sounded a little edgy. Those occurred solely when the kids yelled at each other, and the distortion remained minor.

Otherwise the track sounded great. Most of the lines were concise and crisp, and music fared well. The score was bold and dynamic throughout the movie. Effects were especially terrific, as they showed great clarity and range. Low-end packed a fine punch and never became loose or boomy.

The soundfield was also excellent. The outer space theme afforded many opportunities for all five channels to involve us, and this occurred frequently. The meteor shower was the first real chance for this, and it provided a fine sense of action. Other standout scenes came from the Zorgon attacks as well as the first appearance of the robot.

Really, the whole third act kicked things into gear, with audio that zoomed around us from all sides. The material meshed together smoothly and always seemed well-placed. We even occasionally got some nice localization of speech to the various non-center channels. This was a consistently strong soundtrack despite the minor edginess to dialogue.

Although Zathura tanked at the box office, the DVD offers a pretty sizable roster of extras. We begin with an audio commentary from director Jon Favreau and co-producer Peter Billingsley. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. They touch upon a mix of subjects such as casting and working with the kids, various effects, the house set and its features, the story and changes from the original book, influences and inspirations, deleted scenes, and general production notes like costumes and design.

Favreau and Billingsley interact well, though the director definitely dominates the discussion. The track moves briskly and boasts a light and lively tone. I especially like details such as the studio’s resistance to casting Kristin Stewart and their desire to have Sony product placement. I also like the parts about miniatures and the avoidance of CG whenever possible; the elements about the way the various forms melded for the robot are quite interesting. In a refreshing touch, we even hear a little about the movie’s box office failure. Overall, this is a very good commentary that tells us a lot about the flick.

A whopping seven featurettes follow. All use the same format, as they mix movie clips, production materials, and interviews. First we get Race to the Black Planet, an 11-minute and 54-second look at visual effects. We hear from Favreau, Billingsley, visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer, visual effects producer Joseph Conmy, special effects supervisor Jon G. Belyeu, and actors Dax Shepard, Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson.

The show discusses Favreau’s desire to use as many practical effects as possible. We then watch the various techniques used to achieve these goals. The program offers a nice behind the scenes glimpse of these methods, as the many clips from the shoot help make this an effective view of matters.

During the 14-minute and 55-second The Right Moves: The Making of Zathura, we discover remarks from Favreau, Billingsley, Bobo, Hutcherson, producers William Teitler and Michael De Luca, director of photography Guillermo Navarro, production designer J. Michael Riva, stunt coordinator Tom Harper. It looks at the adaptation of the original story, attempts to give the fantasy a personal tone and ground it in reality, elements of the house set and related subjects, and stunts and the kids.

Based on its title, I feared “Moves” would be little more than a generic promotional piece. Happily, it provides much more substance than that. It repeats some info from the commentary, but it brings different perspectives and gives us a fine look at some production decisions.

Next comes The Cast of Zathura. As one might expect, the 12-minute and 50-second show examines the movie’s actors. We hear from Favreau, Billingsley, Bobo, Hutcherson, Shepard, Teitler, casting director Avy Kaufman, and actors Kristen Stewart and Tim Robbins. We learn a little about how the folks got their roles and why the project appealed to them. Inevitably, this includes a fair amount of praise for various participants, but it adds some nice insights, and I like the audition shots.

More effects material shows up in Miniatures and the World of Zathura. This nine-minute and 47-second piece features Favreau, Bauer, Conmy, Riva, miniatures supervisor Michael Joyce, and Cinema Production Services producer Bob Hurrie. “Miniatures” looks at the design of the house and the Zorgon ship as well as their creation as miniatures. This provides a nice up-close look at the specifics of the miniatures and helps tell us more about the movie’s practical elements.

For notes about the author behind Zathura, we go to the 12-minute and 51-second The World of Chris Van Allsburg. It includes remarks from Van Allsburg. He discusses his early interest in art, his move into books, elements of various works, specifics of Zathura and its adaptation into a movie. A similar piece appears on the Polar Express DVD, but “World” runs significantly longer and offers much greater depth. Van Allsburg digs into his stories well in this informative program.

Still more technical information appears in Zorgons, Robots and Frozen Lisa. In this 16-minute and 41-second program, we find details from Favreau, Navarro, Bauer, Hutcherson, Conmy, Stewart, Teitler, Stan Winston Studio’s Stan Winston, and animatronic supervisor Shane Mahan. As implied by the title, we get information about the design and execution of the Zorgons, the robot, and the Lisa mannequin. We see plenty more solid behind the scenes footage and learn quite a few useful details. This turns into another strong show with many excellent insights.

Lastly, we turn to the 14-minute Making the Game featurette. It provides material from Favreau, Riva, Hutcherson, property master Russell Bobbitt, and illustrator Phil Saunders. It should come as no surprise to learn that this show examines the design and creation of the movie’s titular board game. We find out how it differs from the game in the book, other visual elements, and actually building the thing. As with the other featurettes, this one’s lively and informative. I like learning more about the game’s specifics since it plays such a major role in the film, and this piece delves into the topics well.

The DVD opens with some ads. We get trailers for the 2006 verison of The Pink Panther as well as Monster House and Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild. These also appear in the Previews area along with promos for Open Season, It’s a Big, Big World and The Legend of Zorro. No trailer for Zathura pops up on the DVD.

Although it suffers from too many similarities to its big brother Jumanji, I think Zathura entertains on its own. The movie falters in its third act, but it still offers a fair amount of fun. The DVD offers lackluster visuals along with very strong audio and a nice roster of supplements. This seems like a good addition to the family DVD collection, as it’ll be a good flick for adults and kids to watch together.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9444 Stars Number of Votes: 18
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