ZATHURA: A SPACE ADVENTURE
I must admit that I did not have high expectations of Zathura: A Space Adventure. Jumanji failed to move me the film was a cute concept that never amounted to much more than a special effects show. Nor did the choice of director Jon Favreau seem terribly inspiring. Jon Favreau is probably better known as an actor he both wrote and starred in Swingers (1996) and Made (2001), and has made acting appearances in films such as Deep Impact (1998), Very Bad Things (1998) and Daredevil (2003). Favreaus previous directorial outing was another fantasy film, Elf (2003). Elf was a big hit but I found it leaden, driven only by the annoyingly OTT Will Ferrell, while Favreaus comedy dragged and never seemed to find its feet. Mindedly, Jon Favreau subsequently proved himself with the highly successful Marvel Comics adaptation Iron Man (2008) and its sequel Iron Man 2 (2010) and the subsequent Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and The Jungle Book (2016). On the plus side, the screenplay for Zathura: A Space Adventure was co-written by David Koepp, the writer behind high-profile films like Jurassic Park (1993), The Shadow (1994), Mission: Impossible (1996), Panic Room (2002), Spider-Man (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Angels & Demons (2009), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) and Inferno (2016), as well as director of the intelligent and underrated likes of The Trigger Effect (1996), Stir of Echoes (1999), Secret Window (2004) and Premium Rush (2012).
: A Space Adventure plays against expectation and comes out rather enjoyably. What makes Zathura worthwhile is the approach that Jon Favreau and David Koepp take. The script takes the basics of Jumanji two kids playing a boardgame that produces fantastical events with every turn of the dice, the house that is progressively destroyed with each move, the adult who has been trapped inside the game ever since they started playing as a child. Where Jumanji was only a progression of dramatic spectacles, Zathura builds the elements into a much more character driven story. The two children, Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo, who carry the majority of the film between them, give excellent performances. The characters their constant bickering and rivalry, and their inevitable reconciliation, as well as their fighting with their father are drawn with considerable strength and a rare degree of authenticity. Indeed, while single parent families have become a relative norm within childrens films, it is striking to see a film that depicts the domestic situation with a less-than-rosy feelgood sentiment. It feels like a film filled with real kids for once.
Jon Favreau more than commendably acquits himself in the directors chair. The dramatics and special effects are impressive without being insistently in-your-face and, unlike Jumanji, the dramatic peaks of Zathura are familial ones, rather than triumphs of the special effects department. All the set-pieces work well, with Favreau evoking a genteel sense of wonder and a wry sense of offhand humour. (The touch with the bicycle falling down in the back garden in the final shot is delightful).
[SPOILERS ALERT] The only part about Zathura that left me confused was the revelation that The Astronaut was an older version of Walter. The script never makes it particularly clear how Walter ended up in a wormhole as he claims to do when he first meet him. Presumably, this was a result of his giving in to anger when making the wish, but the film never does much to explain the nature of such alternate realities and how they come to coincide, especially when the film ends with a Walter who chooses a different path than the one that would end him up as The Astronaut. Zathura is also a film where you have to tune out some of the more realistic scientific quibbles that keep coming to mind like how the house can be progressively blown apart and open to the vacuum and the kids inside still manage to keep breathing, or how the effects of zero gravity only seem to kick in beyond the steps of the front porch.
(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay at this sites Best of 2005 Awards).