Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Night

Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bonnie Hunt, Bradley Pierce
Released: December 15, 1995

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins
Released: November 11, 2005

Zathura is not a sequel or prequel to Jumanji, but both films are connected as they are both based on books written by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote The Polar Express) and both are about board games that come to life. However, besides that, the two movies are not connected.

Jumanji's journey begins all the way back in the 1860s where we see two adolescent boys looking scared and burying a wooden box that is emitting a steady banging sound. Fast forward one hundred years later where we see young Alan, who will grow up to be Robin Williams, but is now played by Little Man Tate. He's about twelve years old and gets beat up by the bullies at his school because he's been hanging out with one of the bullies girlfriend, Sarah, who will grow up to be Bonnie Hunt, but is now played by the girl who will go on to play the lead in Legally Blonde on Broadway. His dad is really strict with him and wants him to attend an all-boy's private school. Fun fact: his mom is played by Patricia Clarkson.

Alan hears the drumming sound when he's walking home from school one day and finds the wooden board game. (Evidently, those two boys from the 1860s didn't bury it so well as it only takes him a couple of minutes to dig it up). He brings it home and just as he's about to start playing, Sarah stops by to apologize for her boyfriend for beating him up. He invites her to play, but she says she hasn't played board games since she was a little girl, but is intrigued by it, so she stays and plays with him.

The game has wooden pieces that move themselves after the player has rolled the dice. When they have landed on a square, they receive a card that has a rhyme on it and literally does what it says. Because of this, Alan is sucked into the game and will stay there until another player rolls a five or an eight. This of course traumatizes Sarah and she runs screaming out.

Fast forward to the present. Or, at least, to 1995.

Before she was T-T-T-Torrance, Kirsten Dunst was the young blonde girl with braids named Judy. She and her younger brother, Peter (Bradley Pierce who is probably most well known for voicing Chip in Beauty and the Beast) move in with their aunt (Bebe Neuwirth) in Alan's big and creepy old house. Before they are about to leave for school, they both hear a loud drumming sound coming from the attic. Their aunt doesn't seem to hear it and they both tell her they can wait for the bus without her and when she leaves, they both race upstairs and find the game and start playing. Neither of them are too freaked out when they find monkeys terrorizing the kitchen or when a lion suddenly appears in the same room as them. Judy thinks it's part of the game, that what they're seeing is just a special effect.

Speaking of special effects, I remember being amazed at them when I first saw this movie in the theaters, but they haven't aged very well. They're impressive for their time, but now they look pretty antiquated.

Peter rolls a five and Alan (now Robin Williams as it's been awhile) appears with a beard and ragged clothes. He's been living in the jungle and is elated when he finds out he's home. He seems to think he's still a kid as he runs around the house trying to look for his parents. He finally understand what's going on and tells Judy and Peter the only way to make all of this stop is to finish the game, but they need Sarah to do this. They find her and have to force her to play with them. She's become sort of a recluse as everyone thinks she's crazy since she told the police what really happened to Alan.

The four of them continue to play the game throughout the movie and have to endure a stampede of wild animals (probably one of the most iconic scenes from the film); vines growing all over the house; quicksand; a monsoon (indoors, nonetheless); and a hunter named Van Pelt who is trying to kill Alan. I didn't realize this until now, but the same actor plays both Van Pelt and Alan's father.

Of course Alan wins in the end, just after Van Pelt has taken a shot at him and he and his gun and bullet get sucked back into the game along with all the wild animals and natural disasters that has occurred. There's a bit of time travel because Alan and Sarah are suddenly there younger selfs and are back at his house the night they started the game. They remember everything that has happened and when we return to 1995 again, they are married and meet Judy and Peter and their parents who have not yet died in the  car crash yet and they convince them not to go to Canada which is where the accident occurred.

While Jumanji had a jungle theme, Zathura had a space theme. The movie is confined to one location while the characters in Jumanji were all over the town. We meet Walter and Danny (Hutcherson and Bobo (that poor kid with a last name like that!)) brothers who don't exactly get along. Their dad (Robbins) has a meeting to go to and gets their older sister (a pre-zombie, oops, I mean Twilight, Kristen Steward) to watch them. She says she will, but goes back to sleep.

Danny, the younger one, finds a big rectangular box in the basement and brings it up to reveal the game of Zathura. While Jumanji was made out of wood, Zathura is made out of plastic. He asks Walter if he wants to play, but his older brother is more interested in watching TV, so Danny decides to play by himself. Instead of dice, the player has to crank a dial and the arrow points to a number which is how many spaces the spaceship game piece passes. A card shoots out and like Jumanji, it has a little rhyme and whatever it says on the card literally happens.

Their house becomes a spaceship, so thus the reason for the confined space. They have to fight an evil robot and other space monsters and meet an astronaut (Shepard). They go through some pretty periling things, and like Jumanji, there's also a bit of time-traveling in this one, but it's more complicated and doesn't make any sense. It turns out that the astronaut is actually Walter as an adult. Back when he played the game with his brother, he got a Shooting Star card which meant he could wish for anything he wanted and he wished for his brother to never be born. If that's the case, then how is younger Walter playing the game with his brother. It didn't make any sense.

You know what game-come-to-life movie they should make next? FIREBALL ISLAND! Now I know Jumanji and Zathura weren't based on actual games (duh), but I know they made a game into Jumanji after the movie (how disappointed do you think the kids who received that were?!), but Fireball Island would make an awesome movie if it were done in the same vein as Jumanji or Zathura. 

For those of you not familiar with Fireball Island, the point was pretty much to get your guy from start to finish without being knocked over by a fireball (i.e. a red marble). I forgot what triggered the fireballs, I think it was if you stepped on a certain colored stone or picked a certain card. But that was always my favorite part : to see the fireball knock someone down. It was also great when someone was standing on one of the bridges and the marble would knock them into the water, haha. I just know it would make a really exciting movie! Hmm, maybe I should start writing the screenplay!



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