Zathura: A Space Adventure is a 2005 adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s 2002 novel Zathura, and is set in the same fictional universe as the fantasy adventure film Jumanji, which starred the late Robin Williams.
As with its spiritual predecessor, Zathura focuses on the titular board game, which affects the filmic reality with each turn that is taken. The title follows bickering brothers Walter and Danny, played by Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games, Bridge to Terabithia) and Jonah Bobo respectively, as they attempt to complete the game to return home after being transported to space.
Directed by Marvel Cinematic Universe mainstay Jon Favreau, Zathura also features Kristen Stewart, (Twilight, Charlie’s Angels) who portrays the duo’s sister, Lisa. In a departure from his typical roles, Dax Shepard (Without a Paddle, Hit and Run) plays an astronaut who is summoned by the board game to assist the brothers in their efforts to complete it. Shepard plays his role well, imbuing his performance with a sense of comedy, though he balances this with some scenes that carry more emotional weight, with these moments making for compelling viewing.
Despite the relative youthfulness of Hutcherson, Bobo and Stewart at the time of filming, they all provide capable performances. Hutcherson and Bobo amusingly capture the fractious dynamic that can be found between siblings, squabbling with each other at one moment, and then working together in the next. Stewart also embodies the indignancy of an older sibling forced to spend time with her younger counterparts and demonstrates a range of emotion that would appear to be alien to viewers who have only seen her in the Twilight franchise.
Though its synopsis is fairly uncomplicated, Zathura is a well-structured film with regard to its narrative, and it especially excels with the visual spectacle that viewers are treated to throughout its 101 minute runtime. Shots that depict space are appealing to look at despite the dated nature of the film, while others that demonstrate spaceships attacking are still thrilling to watch.
In an interview, Favreau stated that ‘trying to work with practical effects makes it a much more collaborative and creative experience’, giving ‘the actors, especially young actors, so much to work off of’. Such practical effects include the introduction of an imposing robot that pursues Walter and Danny. Additionally, walls are launched across rooms after being harpooned during an action set piece, with these all contributing to the adventure element of the production.
A fun film that deftly makes use of familiar emotive storytelling, yet has something for viewers of all ages, Zathura is definitely worth a watch!
Zathura is available to stream on Netflix now.