Jumanji month 2 – Zathura: A Space Adventure

Jumanji is generally considered a classic movie, and both of the recent reboot movies are generally liked. Zathura: A Space Adventure is another board-game based adventure movie, based on a book written by Chris Van Allsburg. It is technically the second film in the Jumanji franchise, and is officially considered cannon with the rest. It features pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart, pre-Parenthood Dax Shepard, pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson, and is directed by pre-Iron Man Jon Favreau. Yet despite all that, Zathura tends to be forgotten more often than not.

Favreau acknowledged early on that Zathura was at least partly inspired by Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Battle Beyond the Stars and Superman. He also discouraged the notion that the film is a sequel to Jumanji, saying that he didn’t particularly like the film. Both he and Allsburg stated that Zathura would be a very different movie. Favreau quickly cast Shepard in the role of the astronaut, after enjoying his work in the TV series Punk’d, his performance in Idiocracy, and his background in improvisation. There doesn’t seem to be much more information out there on the casting.

Favreau prefers using practical effects over CGI in general, and definitely stuck to that approach for this film. “It’s so fun to actually shoot real spaceships or have a real robot running around on the set … It gives the actors, especially young actors, so much to work off of.” Shepard added that he wouldn’t have been interested in the movie if it relied mainly on CGI. Stewart also enjoyed the practical effects, saying “When we harpooned walls and ripped them out, we were really doing it.” The film often used models for spaceships, the same way that the original Star Wars trilogy used models in most of their vehicle scenes. Real goats were also used, although they added a third eye to them using CGI.

The most fascinating bit about the filming process may be the house itself. They pretty much completely destroyed the house the film was shot in. As with Jumanji, when they finish the Zathura board game, everything goes away – including the house damage. So they ended up filming the movie’s ending before they started destroying the house. This really helps the movie’s continuity too, because all of the damage remains consistent. I’m sure it created at least some filming challenges though, like certain shots they can only film once, and making sure the acting also remains consistent.

One weird side-note is that since 1989, TriStar Pictures and Columbia Pictures are both owned by Sony, and they are technically merged. They still have separate studio labels either way. The first Jumanji movie was distributed by TriStar Pictures, while Zathura got distributed by Columbia Pictures. On that note, TriStar was founded by then senior executive of Columbia Pictures, Victor Kaufman. Also at the time, Columbia was owned by the Coca-Cola Company. Yeah, Coca-Cola used to own a movie studio. What?

The film received generally positive reviews, earning a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 6.5/10. Roger Ebert, who gave Jumanji a negative review, gave Zathura 3 out of 4 stars. “Zathura lacks the undercurrents of archetypal menace and genuine emotion … but it works gloriously as a space opera.” Variety called it “the best adaptation of a Chris Van Allsburg book to date.” Most critics, even those more negative towards the film, also praised the cast in general – especially Shepard and Stewart. Legacy reviews are also positive towards Zathura, with Den of Geek’s 2018 retrospective review calling it a “terrific movie worthy of reappraisal.”

Despite that, the movie ended up bombing. It earned $65.1 million on a $65 million budget – keep in mind that movie budgets never put marketing into account, and most movies need to earn more than double their budget to make a profit. It earned slightly over $13 million in its opening weekend, somehow earning less than Disney Animation Studio’s worst movie, Chicken Little, in its second week. The very next week, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire released, and Zathura quickly slipped into obscurity. Author Allsburg attributed the box office failure to a lack of marketing and terrible timing, and he’s probably right about that.

As for my thoughts on the movie, I enjoyed it back when I first saw it years ago, but not as much as Jumanji. I probably expected it to be more like Jumanji than it ended up being, and that probably affected my enjoyment more than it should have. Every now and then I’d see the DVD in a store and consider picking it up, but would end up buying something else – if I bought anything. Back when I still worked retail, and video stores stayed open until 11pm, I would often pop by one or two after I finished work. Good memories.

I finally got around to watching this movie again a couple of months ago, part of what inspired me to do this theme month. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it more this time round than last time. It’s similar to Jumanji in that it features a board game that puts its players in dangerous situations, and they must complete the game in order to get rid of them. There are several major differences though. In Jumanji, the players are not trapped in a house. The stampedes, monkeys, unnaturally large bugs and carnivore plants grow well beyond the house and threaten the entire town. In Zathura, the house ends up in space, trapping the kids inside as it’s destroyed over the course of the movie. It’s also only a two-player game instead of a four-player game, which I found a bit odd.

Also like the first movie, it features two kids who are suffering from a recent traumatic experience. This time however, their parents just got divorced. There are three kids. The oldest, Lisa, is played by Stewart in her early teens. The two boys, Walter and Danny, are played by Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo (who hasn’t really appeared in anything since 2012). Unlike the kids in Jumanji, who are very close, none of these three kids get along. Lisa is supposed to be babysitting the others while their father is at work, but she would rather nap until it’s time to get ready to go to the mall with her friends. Danny wants to play something, but Walter would just rather ignore him and watch sports on TV.

Danny finds the Zathura game hidden in the basement in the old, creepy house that their father moved into. After the game causes a meteor shower, they realize this isn’t exactly a normal board game. For a good chunk of the movie, they switch back and forth between trying to work together and arguing. On the one hand, the arguing does get annoying at times. On the other hand, it’s fairly realistic, and it makes it more satisfying when they learn to get along by the movie’s end. Both of the young actors do a great job with their role, especially for their age.

Stewart as Lisa is easily the most entertaining of the three however. When the boys try to show her what the game is doing, only for Walter to get a card that promotes him, her sarcastic reaction is amusing. Later, when she comes out of cryo sleep, only to realize the heat was turned way down, and then she heads downstairs to find out the boys literally set the house on fire, her panic is both hilarious and convincing. She shows a lot of range in this movie – far more than any of the Twilight films.

All of those details added in the previous paragraph are best left unexplained for those who haven’t seen this movie.

Shepard plays an astronaut that the kids end up rescuing, and he ends up being a major help. He’s also got a very entertaining sarcastic attitude. In terms of the story, he mostly acts as a mentor for both of the kids … even if they don’t want to listen at times. Spoiling his name or who he is would ruin both the movie’s best dramatic moment and one of the movie’s better jokes.

The visuals in the movie are fairly impressive for 2005, no doubt helped by generally using practical effects whenever possible. What’s fascinating though is that the stars seen outside the house don’t match the stars or constellations around Earth in any way. I’m no expert on astronomy, even if it is a subject that interests me, but from what I’ve heard, the constellations in this movie aren’t real at all. It suggests that the game isn’t carrying the house into outer space, but instead it sucks the house into itself. That’s never outright stated, but it suggests that Zathura is working the complete opposite way from Jumanji … at least the first Jumanji movie anyway.

Even the board game itself works differently than Jumanji. Jumanji is clearly a magical board game, with some sort of crystal revealing a poem as a hint to whatever threat is coming. It’s old, wooden appearance only adds to the mystery. Zathura is mostly mechanical, with 50’s style gears and sounds, and it outputs cards to explain the next threat. It’s a neat idea in concept, but it’s not as interesting – especially the card bit.

Zathura isn’t as enjoyable to watch as Jumanji, nor is it as rewatchable, but it is still a good movie overall. It’s got a good sense of humour, some great dramatic moments, and it’s an entertaining space adventure overall. The constant arguing between the boys does get annoying at times, but it does make the dramatic payoff at the end more meaningful. It’s also fun seeing several of today’s big movie stars before they landed their breakout roles. As much as I would argue that Jumanji is the better of the two movies, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking the opposite. It definitely deserved to perform better than it did.

Next up is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Before it came out, this soft reboot had everything going against it, yet not only is it a very well received movie, but it earned nearly $1 billion. I’ll explore that in greater detail next week, but for now, just know that it deserves its success. The Next Level will close off this month. I plan to look at Ridley Scott movies for the month of March. In April, I’ll be looking at four “so bad it’s good” movies. I’m particularly looking forward to that.

About healed1337

I am a relatively new comic book fan writing this blog for other new comic book fans and/or people who are interested in comics but don't know where to start. I've always been interested in writing, to the point where I have a college Creative Writing Certificate and I'm currently a year 2 Journalism student. I also have another blog where I mostly make fun of bad movies - www.healed1337.blogspot.com As for how I got into comics, I've always had a passing interest in superheroes: most notably Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men. Until February of 2011 (I think,) my only experience with any of these franchises came from the movies and video games. Shortly after I bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 however, I decided to check out X-23, Wolverine's female clone. I ended up reading her Innocence Lost origin story and enjoyed it. From there, I started reading various X-Men comics and it quickly exploded into my newest hobby. My other interests/hobbies include video games, movies, music, playing sports, my dogs and weird news.
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4 Responses to Jumanji month 2 – Zathura: A Space Adventure

  1. Wow. I actually never realized that this was considered to be part of the Jumanji series. I remember watching this on YTV as a kid. It was fun for what it was, trippy and all. Excellent review as per usual. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Pingback: Jumanji month 3 – Welcome to the Jungle | healed1337

  3. Pingback: Jumanji month 4 – The Next Level | healed1337

  4. Pingback: Spider-Man movies 2 – Spider-Man 2 | healed1337

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