Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)

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Released 26-Sep-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Audio Commentary-Jon Favreau & Peter Billingsley
Featurette-Race to the Black Planet
Featurette-The Right Moves
Featurette-The Cast
Featurette-The World of Chris Van Allsburg
Featurette-Zorgons, Robots and Frozen Lisa
Featurette-Making the Game
Trailer-Open Season, Monster House.Stuart Little 3 Call of the Wild,
Trailer-The Pink Panther, The Advenetures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl
Trailer-Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Yours Mine and Ours,
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 97
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jon Favreau

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Jonah Bobo
Josh Hutcherson
Dax Shepard
Kristen Stewart
Tim Robbins
Frank Oz
John Alexander
Derek Mears
Douglas Tait
Joe Bucaro III
Jeff Wolfe
Case ?
RPI $32.95 Music John Debney
Jay A. Skinner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Descriptive Audio
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   Zathura: A Space Adventure is based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. He is well known to moviegoers through the filmed adaptations of two of his previous books, Jumanji and The Polar Express. Van Allsburg is also an extraordinary illustrator which accounts for the unique and beautiful look of the finished movies.

    As the name might suggest Zathura is closely related in plot to Jumanji. So close, in fact , that the central conceit is identical - two children discover a board game which has the power to create massive and scary happenings.

    Don't let the closeness to Jumanji be off-putting. Apart from the obvious bad consequences of "another roll of the dice" the films are equally enjoyable and I would even venture to say that Zathura , despite its disappointing run at the box office, is the better movie of the two. Amongst other reasons this is because the stranger who comes to the children during the game doesn't take over the story as Robin Williams tended to do in Jumanji.

    Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are typical pre-teen kids. Younger brother Danny lacks confidence because he thinks that everything he does is wrong. That's no surprise because Walter does think that everything Danny does is wrong. On one boring weekend, whilst their dad (Tim Robbins) balances work with looking after the kids they have nothing to do but wait for their mother, who is estranged from their dad, to pick them up. Nothing to do ... but argue. Dad has to take off for work purposes leaving them under the very teen control of sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) who thinks both the boys are dorks.

    It is Danny who discovers the beaten up old game of Zathura and starts the action going. Once the turn begins there is no stopping the game until it is all over. This would be a minor problem except for the fact that they are immediately sent into the far reaches of outer space! Whilst the visitations in Jumanji were of the jungle kind Zathura throws every manner of space peril at the boys , from out-of-control robots and meteorites to nasty scaly aliens bent on destruction. Meanwhile Lisa is snap frozen. Into the story comes the astronaut (Dax Shepherd) who teaches the boys to use their resourcefulness to defeat the enemies.

    Zathura was directed by well known actor/director Jon Favreau. He knows what makes kids tick having earned his stripes with the enjoyable Elf. The film is a homage to the science fiction of the 40's and 50's and there is something gloriously clunky about some of the creations, such as the robot, where Favreau elects to go with an actor rather than CGI. The pace is swift and the messages clear. Love your family, respect and nurture younger siblings, are the tenets of the piece but are delivered in a nice enough way to avoid the adults in the room from choking on their popcorn. My test audience of two pre-teens found it giddyingly scary and exciting, like a rollercoaster ride that you have to go on one more time. The acting is in keeping with the piece and the kids do a good job at being real kids - they are annoying and argumentative!

    Zathura will appeal to any child above about 8 years old and may even entice the odd adult who found Jumanji a thrilling concept.

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Transfer Quality


   Zathura was shot on 35mm at an original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It comes to DVD in this ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer for the film is as clear and crisp as you would expect from a recent mid-budget Hollywood film. At times the interior seems a little dull but that allows a spectacular contrast with the action scenes. It takes a while (17.40) before the game starts and the house is methodically torn apart. Once the game begins the effects come to dominate. Composed largely of a combination of miniatures, live action creatures and some CGI the effect scenes are at times breathtaking, Check out the "house in space" scene at 21.42 for an example of the beauty of the combination of CGI and miniatures. In the director's commentary Favreau speaks about wanting to keep the movie more real therefore he minimised the CGI and shot the creatures, particularly the nasty Zorgons, in half-light to accentuate the fear generated by the unknown.

    There are no defects with the image. No aliasing, noticeable artefacts or compression issues, despite so much material being stuffed on one dual layer DVD. The grain is very minimal.

    There are English and Italian subtitles as well as captioned subtitles which are rendered in white lettering on a black box and give a good account of the on-screen dialogue and action.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio for Zathura comes in two flavours, English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s) and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s). There is also an English Audio Commentary track in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

    The sound for the movie is excellent. Even though it is a space movie and relies to some extent on the creation of unknown sounds such as Zorgon growls, by far the most consistent noise in the film is the sound of splintering wood as the house is ripped apart. Check out the meteor shower at 18.50 and the robot chase scene at 29.00 for just two examples of the richness and quality of the sound. Not only do the surrounds pick up a lot of action and ambient noise but the subwoofer has some fun too with the numerous explosions which threaten to smash the house into pieces!

    There are no audio sync problems.

    The dialogue is clear and understandable at all times.

    The music for the film is an interesting blend of the comedic and the stirring action/adventure. It is a nice complement to the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The DVD for Zathura contains a galaxy of special features which they have dubbed "Out of this World Extras". I am always somewhat dubious about extras on kids' movies as I am never sure that the target audience for this DVD will want to invest so much time in these features. Leaving that aside these are interesting and quality features which give a real insight into the film making process.

Audio Commentary

    The commentary for Zathura is provided by director Favreau as well as producer Peter Billingsley. In an interesting touch it is revealed that Billingsley was a child actor who appeared in the cult classic A Christmas Story. This is a good example of a quality commentary. The speakers bounce off each other really well and have a great time doing the commentary as well as imparting some interesting information.

    Favreau is a fast and funny talker. It was interesting to note some of the changes that had to be made to the movie for the rating system and to make it acceptable. For example, the whole character of Lisa was added to the script as it was felt that it would be seen as irresponsible for the father to leave the kids alone!

    Further, a short moment where a kid lights hairspray to defrost Lisa was cut for the UK release because it was "duplicatable action" which means that other kids would want to do it. Ironically, the scene was almost left out of the film because of the difficulty getting the hairspray to light!

    The commentary is as family safe as the movie - it even has a swear word bleeped out!

    All in all the commentary is great value.

Featurette Race to the Black Planet 11.54

    This is something of a Making of feature as it describes some of the background information for many of the other documentaries. Director Jon Favreau explains how he approached the project as a practical exercise to minimise the amount of CGI in the film both from a nostalgic aspect and also so that the kids would have a more real reaction to the creatures and happenings. The house, which is a character in the movie itself, was built on a large gimbal and tilted for the various changes in gravity as well as being rocked for explosions.

Featurette The Right Moves 14.56

    This looks at some of the early processes behind the making of the film including the transformation of the 20 to 25 page book of Zathura into the finished film. Favreau stressed that to succeed the film needed to be both scary and funny. This and the other features contain extensive interviews with cast members as well as crew members. The kids themselves are a delight and seem to have had a ball making the film, particularly all the wire-work involved.

Featurette Cast 12.49

    This looks at the casting process. There is an interview with the casting agent who was given the job of finding the two kids from hundreds of auditionees. In a funny touch the youngest kid, Josh, shows-off the fake teeth he wore during the film as his baby teeth kept falling out during production.

Featurette Making the game 14.00

    The game of Zathura itself is a very authentic looking pressed tin game that appears as if it could conceivably have come out of a cupboard where it had lain since the 60's. Of course, the simple looking game was an extremely complex prop to prepare and this lengthy feature goes through all the people who had a part to play bringing it to life. Ironically, the only way to make it operate in a mechanical fashion was to use extensive computer technology and for the operational shots it was placed on a 150 cm platform and operated externally.

    It was so genuine that they had to lecture the kids to treat it with respect as they wanted to throw it under their arms and run off to play at every opportunity.

Featurette Miniatures 9.47

    In a nod to the classic era science fiction films Zathura made extensive use of miniatures. Two are looked at in detail, being the house and the Zorgon space ships. Favreau describes the fear he had as to whether the miniature house would look sufficiently real and even had an allowance in the budget for a CGI house if the miniature didn't work. The house had to be destructible as it comes to pieces during the course of the movie. The Zorgon ships are a tribute to the old Buck Rogers style of space ships. Rather than using CGI flame they decided to make a model with a working flame.

Featurette The world of Chris Van Allsburg 12.52

    In this interesting feature Van Allsburg talks about how he came to be a successful children's writer and illustrator. He initially attended art school but decided that he was no good at drawing so he became a sculptor. It was doing this work that he developed his enduring ideas of juxtaposing the normal with the extraordinary. He started doing fantastical drawings as a hobby and secured a publishing deal without knowing if he really wanted to be a writer. He discusses the various inspirations for his stories. More importantly he stresses and acknowledges that once he releases the books to the film studios it is inevitable that they have to expand his slight stories.

Featurette Zorgons, Robots and Frozen Lisa 16.41

    This is an extensive and fascinating feature about the creation of three key elements of the film. The Zorgons are the horrible scaly reptilian aliens who present as a major danger to the kids. Interestingly, using the skills of model maker Stan Winston, they created the creatures as men in suits with animatronic heads coming out from the front of their bodies. This gave a real physical element to the Zorgons which CGI could not achieve. The robot was also created, at least in part, using a man in a metal suit. This enabled the robot to be slightly top heavy giving it a clumsiness at times in keeping with the retro-feel of the robot.

    Finally, sister Lisa is snapped frozen for part of the film. Rather than simply make her up or use CGI the film makers created a frighteningly real frozen Lisa.


    The DVD contains an extensive list of trailers for other kids movies, like Monster House, that are only now due for release in Australia in the summer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The DVD release in the various regions appears to contain identical features to the Region 4 edition.


    Zathura: A Space Adventure is an exciting movie for kids and the kid at heart.

    The audio and visual transfer is always acceptable and sometimes mind blowing.

    There are unbelievable amounts of extras with the DVD.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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