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A few spies press the button and take a trip with ZATHURA!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a few looks at ZATHURA, which apparently screened across the nation a few days ago. They didn't really publicize that, did they? We got a yin and a yang for you, a positive and a negative. So, read on and figure out which side you'll find yourself on!

Hiya Harry, Morry, Quint.

As you guys probably know, Sony held a "sneak preview" for Zathura yesterday all across the country. I snuck into one at my local megaplex and, frankly, dug what I saw.

All I knew going in was that it was based on the book by the same guy that wrote Jumanji (which sucked as a movie) and The Polar Express (ditto). Also, that Favs made a big deal on his show, "Dinner for Five", that he wanted models instead of going 100% CG.

The first thing that struck me was the "future-retro" opening. It was like the closing credit sequence from The Incredibles. I dunno why, but Peter Billingsley's name in the credits made me grin for some reason. I know he produces the show and he 'n Favs go way back. Maybe it's seeing his name on a kids' flick again.

Well, the flick starts with the obligatory "parent-has-to-leave" intro. I always like seeing Tim Robbins cause he always knows what he's doing. He doesn't just brush this off like he knows he's in a family flick. He spends his brief on-screen time making the Dad a likable guy who inevitably has to leave (otherwise, how're the kids gonna have their adventure?).

I was pleasantly surprised to see that kids actually act like kids without being annoying as all goddamn hell. We all love Dakota Fanning. But it is possible for kids to be good actors without trying to be Oscar-worthy. Accordingly, they don't have to be so "cutesy" that you feel like punchin' 'em in the gut cause you're sure that they're only in the flick by being someone's nephew. This comes off as real sibling rivalry (something I know about all too well). The way the kids listen to their Dad talk to the other one was the best part cause it added a level of humanity other family flicks overlook.

Plus, it's too Favs' and David Koepp's credits that they make the characters "real" and "modern" without forcing it. I'm sure some parents will take issue with the younger brother calling the elder "a dick" and the older telling his pet robot to "get me a juice box, bee-yotch !". But honestly, those are no worse than Elliot calling his brother "penis-breath" in ET. Plus there's the part where the Dad openly worries about his daughter "hooking up" with boys and she yells "We never should have rented Thir13en !" These moments may raise eye-brows but they're nothing to get your panties in a twist over.

What I loved was that Fav and Koepp never forget that the whole thing is seen from a kid's-eye-view. When Quint spoke to Fav recently, he said how much he paid attention to Robert Rodriguez' movie, like Spy Kids. This is important cause it means the difference between action scenes that are exciting, but not too scary. Between the boys flying out the front door Alien style, rather than the rules of space travel having no sway over their house. It all looks like something an 8-year-old would think up. And I mean that as a compliment.

Favs' insistence on models and on-set gags pays off. When we first get a look at the exterior of the house in space, a trained eye will easily see that it's not CG, but that somehow makes it more "real". It's not an avatar attempting to look like something it's not. The robot is so damn cool I can scarcely put it into words. This is what happens when tinkertoys-go-wild.

The two things that (slightly) bring the flick down: 1.) the astronaught. Not the character, the actor. Dax Sheperd is waaay too conscious of the fact that he's doing a kids' movie and he doesn't really get into the role the way (I thought) he should have. I won't reveal the twist about his character, but I saw it comin', man (especially the way the older brother first looked at him and the "admiral" card). 2.) the chase on the Zorgons' ship. I don't know why, but this part of the flick just seemed to drag on longer than it should have. It ends with the return of the robot, so I felt great about that. The aliens themselves had an appropriatley nasty design.

Now, I haven't read the book so I don't know when it was written. The reason I bring this up is because I like the way the movie uses things like the Zorgons and the "cryo-freeze" to play with the conventions of sci-fi movies. They joke about how the house is flying through space, yet somehow all the utilities still work. Usually sci-fi explorers have cool spacesuits, the astronaught in this one wears the suit of a deep-sea diver. Plus, there's what we come to learn is Zathura itself. Again, I won't reveal, but I didn't see it coming.

All in all, Favs made a really cool family flick (good enough to show just how creatively bankrupt that genre really is). If he can bring this sorta "whimsy" to Mars (and survive the outrageous demands of his producer, this weird-looking red-head sumbitch) then I'm all for it.

Buddy-L

There's the positive, now for the negative. Needless to say, I disagree with the below view... he seems to complain that the kids act like... brothers... and didn't like the practical effects, which were some of my favorite parts. But that is me and this is The Last Westerner! Enjoy!

Hey AICN,

I had mixed feelings walking into Zathura. First, it was directed by Jon Favreau who I think is a really cool guy. He has acted in and also directed some really slick pieces of work like Made, Elf, and Swingers, all three movies showing a lot of promise for his career in both fields. When I heard that he was doing a science fiction movie called Zathura (knowing nothing about it at the time) I thought it was another step to expand his versatility as a director. I mean, who really would of thought that the same director of Made would make a film like Elf, both of which I really enjoyed. Then came along all talk about how Favreau was using a lot of physical effects instead of going all CGI, kind of trying to bring back the style of adventure films we loved watching as kids but making a film that todays kids can enjoy and one the make adults reminisce of their childhood, and I have to say that caught my interest. But then I read what the plot was about; two brothers find a board game called "Zathura," when the game is played it hurtles the boys and their house into space to encounter many different adventurous and dangerous scenarios on each turn that they make that test their bravery and acceptance of each other. Nice! Just another Jumanji! This really wasn't much of a stretch of the imagination of author Chris Van Allsburg, but that aside I was holding out hope that Farveau could make a movie that would capture my and Van Allsburgs imitation the way Jumanji didn't. Should I have held my breath?

Sadly, no. This film disappointed me greatly in every aspect I was hoping it was going to be good. By using the practical physical effects, Farveau was trying to add a fifties flair to the movie that just stood out like bad prop against all the CGI they were using. The alien Zorgons looked like they dug through back lot dumpster bins and found the baby Godzilla suits from Roland Emmerichs movie. The layout and design of the actual board game of "Zathura" looked good and was done right; everything else just came off as tacky. This isn't to say that CGI space shot weren't done well, which they were, it was just such a stifling contrast it was hard for me to focus on one or the other.

The two Brothers. Oh Jesus the Brothers! Just thinking about these two makes me want to run and find the nearest chalkboard to drag my fingernails along so I can drown out their constant screeching bickering that is still ringing in my head. Seriously, I don't know what the screenwriter and Farveau were really trying to accomplish here. Through the whole movie all these two do is fight. It's like you are babysitting these two bratty kids that you have no control over and you have to sit their and endure it because you are getting paid for it. Oh wait sucker! You actually paid to have this hell unleashed on you! I have a better idea for all you that are thinking about seeing this movie. Go find two kids that you know to be the most obnoxious kids on your block, baby sit them for about two hours, and make about twenty five bucks instead of losing nine. Sitting and watching them fight like brothers through most the movie I knew what it was ultimately going to come to in the end of the film, but the story didn't really make progress towards this predictable ending that when it does reach their turning point, it has no sincerity to it at all.

One thing I didn't expect to be saying about this film was that I liked something Jumanji did better, but here is comes. Jumanji did a much better, well actually, a fantastically better job at showing there was actually danger involved in playing the game. In Zathura the two brothers seemed so unconcerned with their fantastic situation that they were in and more enthralled with fighting with one another, that with every situation that came up, there never seemed to be any real threat to their wellbeing. Also their acting didn't really help because they didn't have much range between their different kind of emotions and reactions to the surrounding environment and events that were taking place. Everything would get a generic scream along with the blankest look of fear possible, ended with the two telling each other that is was their fault. Ugh.

One thing that this film did accomplish for me was three really good laughs. There are some almost brilliant lines in this movie that taste like Favreau's past films and make you think how good they were and that you would rather be watching one of them instead. But this is just a nugget of brown sugar hidden in a bowl of the plainest, driest, coldest oatmeal you have ever had. In the end, the reason I wanted to see this movie was to judge how Favreau could handle his next upcoming project, John Carter of Mars. After seeing Zathura I'm honestly a little worried. He did fine with integrating all the CGI but that's not the only thing that I want from and for John Carter of Mars. The last thing I really need is a straight forward adaptation of the material. I want someone who loves and understands the material or at least the type of story that John Carter character takes place in. Hopefully Zathura is a stepping stone for Favreau and he can learn from what he did wrong and make John Carter of Mars oh so right. Let's hope…

-The Last Westerner



Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 31, 2005, 4:33 a.m. CST

    Space Jumanji!!!

    by cagirl

    See kids books can be repetative, youngsters don't mind seeing the same plot over and over again, just set in different places. This adventure is a jungle one, this other one is here, and there...but the story is always the same basic one. I don't think it works so well when translated over to film. Even my 6 year old recognized this plot in the commercial. "That's the Jumanji movie in space mom." I know Jumanji was a while ago and there are plenty of kids who haven't seen it, but it just rankles me that Hollywood has become the remake capital of film and now it's going to also be the "retread" capital.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 4:34 a.m. CST

    First

    by MarlboroMan

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 4:37 a.m. CST

    I agree on one thing...

    by cagirl

    The second reviewer euther has no children, or has kids that are heavily medicated. Siblings DO fight ALL THE TIME! If that made the film seem unrealistic to him, his reality needs to be checked.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 4:38 a.m. CST

    I loved Jumanji

    by zekmoe

    I mean, it's a kids movie, and kids don't question the effects quality or whether the bathroom still works. Or better yet, they do in their own peer groups, giving them something to debate about at their level. I remember Escape to Witch Mountain when I was a kid. I loved it, and it's memory still lingers to this day. I bet this is a great kids flick. They certainly don't want Goodfellas or My Dinner With Andre.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 4:42 a.m. CST

    LOL zekmoe...

    by cagirl

    Escape to Witch Mountain...wow that DOES bring back my childhood. Great movie for me back then. Sure...I hope this one makes the kids happy. My daughter recognized the plot and (obviously) has Jumanji a few times but if she asks to go see it, I'll take her. That's what's it's all about after all when you're talking kid movies...do the children like them.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 4:57 a.m. CST

    Penis Breath

    by returnofthesmith

    Cracks me up everytime! Jumanji was great btw, i used to watch it at least once a day when i was younger.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 8:06 a.m. CST

    astronaught

    by Wee Willie

    very funny typo. Because the reviewer goes on to say how unconvincing the guy was. Looking forward to taking my kids to this. Fav's is a cool director, cool guy. How he went from being Cassevettes-light to the king of kids movies is odd, but he does a great job at both. Elf is a classic if you ask me.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 8:45 a.m. CST

    Wat the fuck...

    by wackynephews

    Is with the use of a diector's nickname in that first review? Is he a personal friend? Or are you just being a pretentious git?

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 8:50 a.m. CST

    I really liked Jumanji when I saw it in the theater..

    by Mahaloth

    and my wife and I sat down and watched in on tape(couldn't find dvd) on Saturday. It is a decent movie and a ton better than Mighty Joe Young and Jurrasic Park III from the same director. I'm surprised people didn't like it.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 8:57 a.m. CST

    Lost me at "we all love Dakota Fanning"

    by InspectorDoppler

    Then lost me again by praising David Koepp twice in one review.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 9:35 a.m. CST

    Ahhh, kids cursing again

    by Terry_1978

    This shall take me back to the days of the 1980's, when kiddies could swear a blue streak in movies and it was perfectly fine. Only Harry Potter has went there as of late.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 10:09 a.m. CST

    nobody mentioned dax shepard as the spaceman...

    by jig98

    still, this movie has "stupid dissapointing rip-off" written all over it.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 10:27 a.m. CST

    What is it exactly a rip off of?

    by Terry_1978

    The same guy authored the other two books. He's doing his own ripping off.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 10:48 a.m. CST

    Here's my review.

    by nsomnia

    First off I was very surprised to see that the show was not sold out, as I expected it to be for such a limited release, and the audience was mostly kids under ten with their parents. Which could mean one or both of two things: they might not have beaten the drum enough about this movie, or might have beaten the wrong drum instead. Nonetheless, I kept my hopes high when the titles rolled. Not so long ago, a talk-backer wrote an interesting comment about fan-directors. Well, ZATHURA is a perfect example. It is as if Favreau spent hours watching his favorite sci-fi flicks, paused and rewinded to his favorite scenes or effects or music or dialogues, then mashed it all up and created his own. So I spent the first half of the movie trying to like it when I realized I just liked the fact that it reminded me of all those 80

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 11:09 a.m. CST

    I stopped reading the second review with, "I really would of tho

    by 3 Bag Enema

    Pitiable.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 11:12 a.m. CST

    Zathura looks hollow

    by Saluki

    I've never been a big Favreau fan in the first place. I'll pass. Potter has my cash, and I'll checkout Narnia if the reviews are positive (likely), but that about does it for me and Fantasy this year.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 11:23 a.m. CST

    Say no to dick

    by docfalken

    I was really looking forward to seeing this film with my kids. But we'll probably wait until the DVD now that I know that they have cursing in it. I'm just not interested in having "dick" enter my kids lexicon. Not yet at least. And especially not from a Hollywood film. So I'll just hold onto that $40 bucks thank you.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 11:38 a.m. CST

    When I saw the trailer for this...

    by MonteCristo

    ...everybody was saying "Jumanji" while the trailer was playing. When the trailer ended and it said "from the writer of Jumanji", everyone started laughing. I wonder how good this'll do in the box office.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 11:40 a.m. CST

    Say no to bi-atch, too, unless it's Rick James.

    by MonteCristo

    ...

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 12:43 p.m. CST

    My sneak preview was only half full too.

    by Smurfette

    I thought the movie was great. It delivered on every front and the audience actually cheered when I saw it.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 1:14 p.m. CST

    Dick - docfalken

    by blackwood

    "Won't somebody please think of the children!" Please. Because bad words make bad people. I don't understand parents who try hide unsavoury elements from their kids instead of explaining them. Innocence is a myth purpetrated by adults on children so they don't have to take them seriously.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 1:40 p.m. CST

    o

    by JediGBus

    o

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 1:40 p.m. CST

    0

    by JediGBus

    0

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 2:14 p.m. CST

    blackwood

    by docfalken

    A movie theater isn't a place to explain anything. I'd prefer the setting of my house, where we'd talk about the words. All because someone at the studios thinks that children cursing is integral to the plot. So goodbye Cineplex, hello Netflix.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 2:28 p.m. CST

    Doc

    by blackwood

    Fair enough. Though I doubt cursing is considered 'integral', more 'authentic'.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 4:09 p.m. CST

    pushes the button? he pushed the button? don't press the but

    by Holodigm

    oh wait, wrong talkback

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 6:03 p.m. CST

    nobody mentioned the crappy camera work

    by Volstaff

    I saw the sneak preview Saturday as well at Kerasotes 16 here in Indy. I was all ready to enjoy the movie, when about 20 minutes in ( it's after the Dad leaves and just before the little kid goes downstairs to find the game), I notice at the top of the screen, the fucking microphone boom is in the picture! Others must have noticed it too, because several people ( mainly the kids for some reason) started laughing. You could see it again in the next scene, as it tracked froom left to right. Now for me, that pretty much ruins immersion in a fantasy movie. I don't get why no one else has said anything about it. Perhaps the projectionist didn't have the movie centered properly on the screen,and so made it more noticeable for us, I dunno.But it pretty much ruined the film experience for me. When I see stuff like that in a big time hollywood film, I just have to wonder. But even outside of that,I would say it's not a great movie, but a pleasant, forgettable popcorn movie. Good for a matinee maybe, but don't waste your 9 bucks.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 6:16 p.m. CST

    this "favs" nickname...

    by mocky_puppet

    ...is like NAILS on a CHALK BOARD in my little head.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 9:39 p.m. CST

    I've got to agree with the nickname.

    by dr_dreadlocks

    It's like someone dubbing Spielberg "Spiels" all the time. It's incredibly annoying. But I still think the movie will be, at least, interesting.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 9:53 p.m. CST

    No gaydar on the Enterprise?

    by Darth Philbin

    WTF?

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 10:20 p.m. CST

    Sure siblings generally fight a lot

    by Ribbons

    But would you necessarily be fighting with your sibling in a life or death situation? A case could be made for petty squabbling at inopportune moments, but it's not like a fact of life, which is what I think the reviewer was trying to say. Hopefully it makes more sense in the context of the movie, but it seems to me like it's one of those ways that screenwriters portray their characters as types. This is what two brothers do. They fight. I dunno. Still looking forward to this movie. And jig98 or whatever your name is, the first reviewer mentioned Dax Shepard as "the spaceman." Yeesh.

  • Oct. 31, 2005, 11:22 p.m. CST

    Volstaff

    by hargon27

    Volstaff, the fact that you saw the Mic had nothing to do with the cinematography but instead was the fact that your projectionist did not frame the movie correctly so you were correct in your assumption. A large majority of films filmed in 1:85 format have the boom mic filmed, but you dont see it because they are projected correctly.

  • Nov. 1, 2005, 6:38 a.m. CST

    There's another preview this Saturday (probably at 5pm)

    by FrankDrebin

    Best movie where siblings fight at inopportune times: THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE. Eric Roberts gets his thumb cut off, then criticizes Mickey Roarke for feeding him canned soup. The last scene in the movie, they're still arguing while running from the mafia.