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Monday, November 14, 2005


I always love going to the Essex Outlet Cinemas, and I especially like going early in the week when it is less crowded and I can actually chat with the staff for a few minutes between their many duties. Today I ran into Bernie, Barry, and my friend Nancy who has worked there forever but who I haven't seen in an eon because our schedules seldom mesh so this was a special treat. It's always fun to go to the movies when you know there are good people "backstage" running the projectors, cleaning the theaters, and preparing the snacks. It feels like home in a way and makes the experience all the more personal. But, as usual, I digress.

The purpose of today's trek was to see the big budget sci-fi fantasy
Zathura, a film that sounds like it is named after after a bowel disease, but is, in fact the name of a board game discovered by "6 and 3/4 years old" Danny, played by Jonah Bobo. That "3/4" is important at his age, especially when you live with a brother who is as big a pain as ten year old Walter, effectively portrayed by Josh Hutcherson. Frankly, within the first fifteen minutes of the movie I was ready to crawl into the picture myself and wallop the annoying kid. Walter is self-centered, rude, and a pain to be around... in other words a typical ten year old. He has no use for his little brother and somehow blames him for everything wrong in the world, including their parents' recent divorce.

On this day the boys are begrudgingly waiting for their mother to pick them up from their father's new home, an older suburban house their Dad aspires to remodel and make a "real home" for himself, the boys, and their older teenage sister Lisa, who sleeps the day away as if she had been bitten by a tsetse fly. The boys bicker, they get into phyiscal altercations, they get scolded by their father, Tim Robbins in a negligible role, and then spend way too much time establishing the obvious: this may be a sci-fi fantasy, but first and foremost it is going to be a morality play about brotherly love.

It is one of Walter's mean-spirited pranks that leads to Danny's finding the old and obviously neglected board game in the scary ol' basement he is afraid to go into. He begs Walter to play the game with him, but, as can be expected, Walter refuses, citing Danny's tendancy to cheat at games so he can be appear as capable as his big brother. Things change rapidly, however, when Danny plays the first card of the magical game and the house is beseiged by a meteor storm. It is Walter who is forced to save his little brother by coaxing him into the safety of the fireplace until the storm blows over. And then they discover the real excitement ~ when they emerge into the rubble that is left of their living room they see that their house is now floating free in outer space!

Since this is a fantasy the obvious questions of how they breathe, why there is gravity in the house, how is it that the electricity, water, gas, etc. work are neglected about as much as big sister Lisa, icily played by Kristen Stewart, who is quickly dispatched into a frozen state in her upstairs bathroom before she even realizes what is going on. It's a nice way of keeping her out of the picture until they need her again towards the end.

Naturally, as in the forerunner to this tale,1995's Jumanji, the kids figure out that the only way to get home and restore normalcy is to play the game to its' natural conclusion. Unfortunately this also means facing all kinds of potential threats including a marauding giant robot, flesh-eating lizard aliens called the Zordor, and a mysterious astronaut in need of rescue (Dax Shaepard). This astronaut without a name will prove the key to all their unanswered questions and his presence puts a twist in the story proves surprisingly poignant in a most unexpected turn of events.

Before it is over Walter and Danny will naturally have learned to work together and come to understand and respect each other and their differences. Both will mature, and, thankfully, their lovely peg and groove hardwood floors will be restored to the beauty they exhibited before being smashed by meteors, bombed by lizards and had fireballs shot across them by a really annoyed robot. I guess that is the one downside to Zathura. When I find myself as worried about the house as I do the kids I guess I knew before it started that everything was going to work itself out. Still, it is a great "ride" for the kids and for kids at heart and it will definitely jog a few memories for those of us who used to lie in the backyard on warm summer nights, looking up and the stars, and dreaming of what adventures might lie out there.

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