on November 11, 2005 by Matt Caracappa
There is at least some justification in "Zathura" being essentially the same film as "Jumanji" -- only this time set in outer space -- given that both are based on children's books by Chris Van Allsburg in which kids find a board game powered by some sort of magical portal that imparts important lessons while wantonly threatening lives.

Tim Robbins stars as the father of two brawling sons, but in the time it'd take you to tell the guy in the back row to shut up, he vanishes from the screen and doesn't return until the closing moments. Would that be considered a spoiler? Only if you were under the impression that his character was going to die. Let's not be silly.

Then again, "silly" is this movie's trade and, more often than not, it works. Through circumstances never adequately explored, the boys stumble across an old board game (Zathura!) that sends them (and their house, and their surly older sister) into outer space. Various crazy things happen to them in accordance with what transpires in the game. For example, when they draw a "meteor shower" card, tiny comets blast through the roof and nearly kill everyone.

The movie is an achievement in loud and in-your-face special effects. It's easy to lose yourself in the scenery and the cavalcade of giant robots, man-eating alien lizards and miscellaneous interplanetary dangers that rampage through the film. Once we head into space, everything moves at a breakneck pace. Considering the attention span of the target demo, this is a good thing.

After a mysterious astronaut arrives to help the kids out of this mess, the moral backbone of the story is hammered over your head a few thousand times: It's a tale of understanding and appreciation between brothers -- a lesson that while siblings can get annoying, they're truly the best friends a person could have. Children will likely overlook the flimsy story, but the intensity of certain scenes (those alien lizards are UGLY) makes "Zathura" perhaps a bit harsh for the especially young. Starring Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shephard and Tim Robbins. Directed by Jon Favreau. Written by David Koepp & John Kamps. Produced by Michael De Luca, Scott Kroopf and William Teitler. A Columbia release. Fantasy/Action. Rated PG for perilous situations and some language. Running time: 113 min

Tags: Starring Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shephard, Tim Robbins. Directed by Jon Favreau. Written by David Koepp & John Kamps, Produced by Michael De Luca, Scott Kroopf, William Teitler, Columbia, Fantasy, Action

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