A well done, well acted, very overlooked movie.
Zathura is such a great movie it seems too simple to be as good as it is. First of all (and this is talked about in the special features), director Jon Favreau used a lot of practical FX so that the film would utilize as little CGI as possible. Secondly, there aren’t any huge action or fight scenes, even though this film does have it’s share of those kinds of moments. Thirdly, this is a movie with a very small cast and it takes place in one location. So it’s sort like a big budget, independent, adventure film. In short, Zathura’s ability to be many things at once is what makes it so special.
Danny and Walter are two brothers who don’t get along. When Danny starts playing with this game called Zathura, the boys are soon catapulted into space with their house as their traveling vessel. In order to get home, they have both got to play the game together. This is the crux of the film, the relationship between the two brothers and how if they want to get through life they are going to have to work together to do it. This movie is so understated that it almost seems anti-climatic but Zathura is one of the best films I have ever seen.
I expected more from a commentary track with Jon Favreau and Peter Billingsley (yes, that Peter Billingsley). I just hoped that they’d sit around laughing making jokes and talk about A Christmas Story and The Dirt Bike Kid. Instead, they were actually serious and they even talked about (gasp!) the technical side of the movie!
The Right Moves and The Cast of Zathura
These were two separate featurettes that were so similar in their subject matter that I decided to combine them here. The Right Moves is a typical “making of” featurette that showcases the cast, the crew and their aspirations for this movie. The Cast of Zathura piece is pretty similar to this except that it looks at the actors Jonah Bobo (Danny), Josh Hutcherson (Walter) and the other actors who round out the cast.
Race to the Black Planet and Zorgons, Robots and “Frozen Liza”
Like the above entry, I felt that the Race to the Black Planet and the Zorgons, Robots and “Frozen Liza” pieces were so close in style and theme, that I would just review them together as well. The Race to the Black Planet looks at the FX employed in the movie and how Favreau and his team wanted to use a little CGI as possible. He is very correct that doing this gave the movie a nostalgic feel. The Zorgons, Robots and “Frozen Liza” segment is one that shows us the FX and the “behind the scenes” maneuverings that make the FX work.
Making the Game
This is a featurette that looks at the board game these kids play that gets them into their adventure together. I would have loved to have had a game like this to play when I was growing up, simply because it seems so intricately constructed in how you work it. We are also treated to the logistics of how this game was employed so that it would apply to the film.
Miniatures and the World of Zathura
Again, another featurette where Jon Favreau expresses his love of “practical” FX. He also explains that he was okay with the movie not looking as good, simply because he felt that he could make his point by having miniatures help carry the action. We also hear from people like Michael Joyce who was the miniature supervisor on the film.
The World of Chris Van Allsburg
This is a pretty in-depth interview with the writer of the book. It talks about how he got started and ended up creating the world’s he’s created, as well as how all of this led to him creating the book that would be the movie Zathura.
1.85:1 - Anamorphic Widescreen. The use of miniatures in this movie was a very smart idea. This film has a soulful quality. You always get the sense that the actors and the sets are very much there, as opposed to everything being created with the use of digital FX. I am not knocking movies that employ these things, but I really think that Zathura stands out because of it.
Dolby Digital. Mastered in High Definition. Subtitled in English and French. Close Captioned. Unlike many kid’s movies today, Zathura doesn’t try and manipulate the viewer by creating a false sense of wonderment with the soundtrack. That’s what so impressed me about this movie, was that the point it was trying to make was about how the brothers need each other, yet it never forced the viewer to understand that.
The cover of this title is a bit too busy for my tastes. As a result, I think that parents might feel there is too much happening in the movie for their already chaotic kids. We see robots, houses flying, people moving through the air, alligator-like aliens, etc.. The back features some shots from the movie, a description of Zathura, an in-depth “Special Features” listing, a cast list and some technical specs. Something tells me they are going to rerelease this movie in another special edition with a version of the Zathura board game.
Who cannot love a movie about two brothers learning to not only depend on but also respect one another? I am not saying you need to have a brother to enjoy Zathura, but I am willing to bet that it probably helps. I also appreciated how, even though this is very much a kids movie, Favreau and company didn’t shy away from making the kids talk how kids talk. Sometimes in movies of this nature, there is a tendency to oversanitize the subject matter. Clearly, that line has been broached in this movie, but I never felt that Zathura got stuck there.
Zathura was released November 6, 2005.