[box cover]

Zathura

William Goldman's famous edict that "Nobody knows anything" in Hollywood is a half-truth that offers an easy out for failure. The truth is often more complicated. Many films are simply doomed (Catwoman), destined to be laughed at because all the wrong elements came together like a slow-motion rollover accident. Others get the shaft for reasons that have little to do with quality. Say a film goes into production as the pet project of a studio chief who's then replaced? It almost behooves the new management to bury it so their predecessors look even more foolish. Then there's also the contractual obligation, where someone powerful gets a chance to make the film they want and damn the consequences, and often it's these titles that are thrown to the wolves as a product of excess. But though more often than not there are good reasons why films don't succeed despite their quality, other pictures do seem to fail simply because a butterfly flapped its wings in Australia. Zathura (2005) is one of those films lost at the box office that shouldn't have been. But that's not to say it didn't have some strikes going against it. For starters, the title is unwieldy and does little to suggest that it's a kid's film, while it's also based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg — who also wrote the source-book for 1995's Jumanji, which made money despite the fact that few people liked it. And since the plotting is similar to Jumanji (both offer board games that enter real life), Zathura felt like an unwanted sequel, but without Robin Williams's marquee appeal — the best to be found here are small roles for Tim Robbins and Dax Shepard. But it's a good film, and it was hoped that audiences would recognize the quality. Alas, it made a scant impression theatrically and will have to be found on home video. Josh Hutcherson and James Bobo star as Walter and Danny, two brothers who don't get along and are staying with their father (Robbins) until their mom comes to pick them up. When an accident sends dad scrambling to the office, Danny finds a board game in the basement called Zathura, which Walter doesn't want to play, since Danny has a habit of cheating. But Danny starts playing anyway, and it launches their house into outer space, where they eventually learn to work together to beat the game and get back home with the help of a marooned astronaut (Shepard). Though the plot itself is routine, director Jon Favreau invests the characters of Zathura with an emotional honesty that makes the reconciliation realistic, and it's put together with enough flair and comic zest to keep it engaging for adults. Working with as many practical effects as possible, the film has a wonderfully naïve sheen, and it manages to create a sense of awe from many of its effects. Thankfully, DVD offers a reprieve for theatrical belly-flops, and hopefully Zathura will find the audience it deserves. Sony presents the feature in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a commentary by Favreau and producer Peter Billingsley (yes, the kid from A Christmas Story), the "making-of" featurettes "Race to the Black Planet (12 min.), "The Right Moves" (15 min.), "The Cast" (13 min.), "Miniatures" (10 min.), "The World of Chris Van Allsburg" (13 min.), "Zorgons, Robots, and Frozen Lisa" (17 min.), and "Making the Game" (14 min.), and bonus trailers. Keep-case.
—DSH



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