Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Zathura understood kids’ inclinations to transform dens into forts, view a cocked thumb and forefinger as a laser gun or attempt to make the biggest explosion sound ever with their mouths.
Reminiscent of 1980s movies with effects that didn’t come at creativity’s expense, director Jon Favreau’s 2005 fantasy knew bad-guy aliens didn’t need to run amok down the street to inject tension a la Jumanji, to which this was a quasi-sequel.
Despite the best creature-stalking sequence since Jurassic Park, tension derived more from bickering brothers with age-based differences than any interstellar dangers.
Ten-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and 6-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) are antagonistic brothers who are temporarily left at home alone after they inadvertently ruin one of their dad’s work projects.
Danny finds a board game in the basement called Zathura. Upon starting to play, the house becomes a suburban-style spaceship and the brothers must work to get back home.
The game’s attention to rules (specifically turn-taking and cheating) is both a challenge to Danny and Walter and a source for several laugh-out-loud bits. And MTV personalities attempting to act rarely succeed, but Punk’d lackey Dax Shepard is heroic, helpful and humorous in a role offering a great twist.
Zathura’s copious excitement comes from the wowing sights of a living-room meteor shower, a renegade robot in need of reprogramming and meat-eating, planet-burning lizard aliens called Zorgons.
But its appeal comes from knowing kids could act out its astronaut character by strapping on a backpack and letting their boundary-free imaginations rip.