I was sitting around thinking of something to do today, and I thought, since it’s the weekend and all that jazz, that maybe I should watch a movie. Radical, aren’t I?
Peeta and Bella… IN SPACE!
Young brothers Walter and Danny never seem to be able to get on. While exploring in their father’s house, Danny finds an old, clockword-powered board game called Zathura. He takes a turn and finds that whatever happens in the game happens to the house, and the boys and their big sister Lisa are now in deep space. Faced with this new development, can Walter and Danny work together to get to the end of the game and make it back home?
Even if everything else about it sucked, Zathura deserves praise for being one of the most accurate depictions of how brothers really behave that I have ever seen in a movie. The way Walter and Danny interact, particularly in the opening scenes before they end up IN SPACE! is so much like the relationship between me and my big brother, it’s scary. It comes down to a solid script by David Koepp and John Kamps and believable, naturalistic performances by the two young actors Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo, as marshalled by a talented director like Jon Favreau. When everything comes together at the same time in the same place, that’s when movies really work. Zathura works.
His work on this film had a lot to do with Favreau getting the Iron Man gig, and it easy to see why: he manages to blend the domestic and the fantastic without losing sight of either, and switches the focus from the various interpersonal dramas to the bigger “oh crap, we’re IN SPACE!” moments and back, with each informing the other as the story progresses. And when it comes to story, the film is by necessity much changed from Chris Van Allsburg’s book. By making the parents divorced, for example, Koepp and Kamps have added an extra layer of misplaced blame to the already somewhat confrontational relationship between Walter and Danny. Also, where the book was a direct sequel to Jumanji, the film has no such explicit connection.
Of course a lot of the movie’s success rests on the shoulders of its cast. Besides Bobo and Hutcherson as Danny and Walter, there are only three more actors in the whole film: Kristen Stewart as Lisa, the boys’ teenaged sister; Dax Shepard as a stranded astronaut seemingly conjured by the game, but actually another player who has been stuck inside for 15 years (like Alan in Jumanji only, you know, IN SPACE!); and what basically amounts to a cameo from Tim Robbins as the kids’ father. The movie belongs to the brothers though. After this and Bridge to Terabithia, it is no surprise to see Josh Hutcherson going on to bigger things such as The Hunger Games, while Stewart packs more life into her few scenes here – considering the fact that her character is cryogenically frozen for much of the second act – than in possibly all the Twilight movies combined. There’s even a bit of a parody (in hindsight) of Bella’s habit of instantly falling for older men when Lisa meets the mysterious astronaut for the first time.
We can’t talk about a film like Zathura without mentioning the effects. Admirably, Favreau and his team chose to do most of the special effects work practically instead of using CG and it makes such a difference. Watching young Danny trying to evade a group of the lizard-like Zorgons, or Walter and Lisa’s reactions to chunks of their house (IN SPACE!) being trashed by enemy fire and rampaging robots seems so much more dangerous and exciting when it’s for real.
Zathura is a thrilling family adventure flick that would be a worthy successor to films like The Goonies and ET; films that had ordinary, relatable child characters thrown into fantastical stories, and young actors talented enough to shoulder those stories. If only it hadn’t got stiffed during its theatrical run by being released just a week ahead of the fourth Harry Potter…
So what else did you watch today, Ryan?
Justin Long – who has a cameo in this sequel to Rob McKittrick’s Waiting… – said in an interview with Rolling Stone’s film critic Peter Travers that this film was “offensive”. He wasn’t wrong.