My friend Iain and I used to play this game where we’d identify movies using the formula X is Y in space. As in “Outland is High Noon in space”, “Alien is Jaws in space” and so on. (You can extend this formula too. “Brotherhood of the Wolf is Jaws meets the Matrix in 16th Century France (honest guv!))
So in that fine tradition (and because every other review I’d read/heard/seen of this movie says it) I give you:
2. Zathura – Jumanji in Space
Well, ok that’s the cliche – But it really REALLY IS! See this movie is based on a book which was written by the same guy who wrote the book Jumanji is based on. And it’s pretty much the same story. In Jumanji a mysterious jungle-themed board game causes wackiness as things from the game come to life and the only way out from the various dangers this causes is to finish the game. In Zathura a mysterious space-themed games causes… well you get the idea.
So same basic idea, but there are differences. Jumanji relies heavily on CGI, which at the time it was made was pretty good, but it looks like CGI. Zathura does a lot more physical effects. It’s baddies – alien lizards called Zorgons – are guys in lizard suits rather than CGI. This seems to work well and it’s less distracting than CGI.
Where Jumanji works a bit better is that the story has a romantic subplot with Robin WIlliams and Bonnie Hunt. In Zathura the central relationship is of brothers who don’t get on initially learning to respect each other. For me at least seeing the couple get together is always going to be more of a draw than that. Having said that, both films manage to deal with these emotional themes without resorting to sentimentality.
Finally I think Jumanji scores in having someone like Williams as a star. Not just in marketability, but his charisma and performance do lift the film.
Overall Zathura is good, not quite in Jumanji’s lead but very enjoyable nonetheless.