By Madelyn Ritrosky-Winslow
Being inside a computer game or program is a story idea that has now been played out numerous times by Hollywood, from Tron to Spy Kids 3D to The Matrix. With computer technology surrounding us, it becomes an important part of our environment that helps define the issues, questions, and milieu of our time.
However, the new kids/family movie Zathura plays on this without computer technology incorporated as an overt part of the plot. Yet the whole idea of being inside a game and it becoming your reality is the Zathura story. Interestingly, in order to have the kids in this film enter a board game, they have to live in an old house (from the early 20th century) and find the old game (c. 1950s) under dingy basement stairs.
While on one level you could say the film encourages kids to use board games and their imaginations, the film also basically plays out like any video game, where the goal is to get back home while fighting off various dangerous challenges. Of course, like all such movies, there are tie-in computer and video games coming out with the film.
One of the things making this story that little bit different, as most movies strive to be, is that the kids do not travel on a spaceship or simply move from place to place on foot. It is their house, uprooted by its foundations, that hurtles through space. Like most such films that provide fantasies for kids, the young central characters, Danny and Walter, have some power, authority, and/or knowledge which adults in the film lack.
There is an adult male who enters the game via one its instruction cards, an astronaut who needs rescuing. He does take charge at different points as their house gets attacked by the dreaded lizard/dinosaur creatures, the Zorgons. But it turns out, in a plot twist of a time warp factor, that this man is in fact the older of the two boys, Walter, who years earlier got himself stuck in the game. This twist allows the adult’s power to be at least partially recouped for the kids.
The deeper layer in the film is the relationship between the two brothers, where the younger one (played by Jonah Bobo) finally matures a little and earns the respect of his big brother. The older one (played by Josh Hutcherson) finally realizes he has been unfair in all the blame and put-downs he’s been heaping on his little brother.
While this is a kids/family movie, the scenes where the Zorgons board the house looking for “meat” are actually kind of scary. These “lizards” are ferocious-looking, people-sized beasts and search for the hiding humans amid dark rooms, with the music obviously adding to the effect. These scenes are not for pre-schoolers. I know for a fact that even young school-age children may find them too much to watch.
Zathura, which is rated PG, opened in theaters Friday, November 11, 2005.
2005 Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org