Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins
(PG, 113 min.)
"The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves." Sophocles
You’ll never look at a board game in quite the same way after Zathura takes you on a wild ride past meteor showers, black holes, and flesh-eating space lizards. Dare to journey beyond the stars into the very souls of two brothers who must give up battling each other to fight for their own survival in this science fiction-fantasy.
It’s just another boring Saturday for six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) and his ten-year-old brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) as they finish off the three days with Dad, four days with Mom cycle of disorientation called joint custody. Like some government program on overdrive, the counting and scheduling are relentless as everything is cut up and measured out in equally unsatisfying portions. Put upon Dad (Tim Robbins) counts out each baseball toss to his sons to make everything fair, just as he has carved out exactly one hour of work for himself this Saturday afternoon. Even his job, which would seem to be a dream come true - designing gorgeous sports cars - boils down to the onerous nitty-gritty of meetings and deadlines every bit as much as that of your typical insurance adjuster.
Normal sibling rivalry is made worse by Walter, who is not only older and more athletically talented than his younger brother, but also propelled with an ego and a mean spirit that rubs it in with a vengeance. When Dad has to return to the office, he leaves his older daughter Lisa (Kristen Stewart) in charge, who fits every stereotype you’ve ever had about sullen, selfish, and rude teenage daughters rolled into one self-absorbed package. Her idea of babysitting is to be submerged under her quilt with her headphones on.
From then on, the film belongs to the brothers, a kind of younger version of Beaver and Wally, if you inject an ample sized portion of Eddie Haskell into Walter. Their fight scenes ring so true that if you didn’t know better you might think you were on an endless road trip in your own minivan with the bickering kids in the back seat. But when Danny finds an old game in the basement, turns the windup key, and pushes the red button, we spin into another reality. Like the young star of Millions who isn’t flummoxed by cigarette smoking saints who show up in his cardboard box fort, Danny and Walter learn to accept the ominous portents of the cards spewed out after each turn of the key -- the meteor shower that destroys only their living room, as well as the discovery that their house has been uprooted and now floats in space, while they still have air to breathe, faucets that gush water and a stove that issues its requisite blue flame.
Most young viewers will go along for the ride, but older members of the audience will probably be more comfortable if they see Zathura as a fantasy-fable rather than semi-realistic science fiction. In that sense, the pristine Mission style house that lurches through space becomes a metaphor for the family. The basement has a mammoth glowing furnace like a fire-breathing dragon presiding over the cave-like void. With its dark wood paneling, and the cozy-creepy dumbwaiter hidden within the recesses of the wall, the house is like the adult world, venerable and scary at the same time. Uprooted from its foundations just like the family going through the pain of divorce, it is pummeled and split apart during the course of the film as Danny and Walter run for cover in the ever- shrinking portion that is left intact.
Zathura, the board game, also has allegorical meaning. It is all powerful, arbitrary and ominous, sending forth not only meteor showers, but cryonic sleep for their soon to be frozen sister, suggesting her emotional numbness a temporary defense against the family’s dissonance. Like an authoritarian parent, it insists each player take his turn, which echoes the endless turns the children take in the by-the-book custody agreement. It seems to know when someone is cheating, though like a well-meaning parent, even gets that wrong and ends up punishing the wrong player. Echoing the sibling rivalry, the two metal space ships vie for supremacy on the board, the outcome governed not by merit or hard work, but by a fate that is only a spin away. To six-year-old Danny, who struggles to catch a pass while Walter handles a ball like a pro, the world might indeed look this cold and unfair.
Before things spin completely out of control, or perhaps just as they are about to, the card issued to Danny tells him to “Rescue the astronaut.” Although it is essentially the opposite once space-suited Dax Shepard enters the scene, since he attempts to rescue the brothers from their self-imposed exile of endless enmity long enough for them to pay attention to their own survival.
Either that or the Zorgons, flesh eating space lizards, will finally have them all for supper. And as anyone who has dealt with squabbling siblings will tell you, the chances are fifty-fifty at best.
Don't assume that this family friendly film is just for the kids. Zathura has a few unexpected twists that will stop your heart and touch your heartstrings both at the same time.
When the rescued astronaut raids their refrigerator with the zeal and appetite of an undisciplined teen, Walter begins to doubt the sanity of admitting this spaceman who had floated past their window. Just about everything stored in the icebox is emptied onto the kitchen table and stacked between two slices of bread, which Dax Shepard struggles to fit between his lips.
But if you had lived on food squeezed out of a tube for fifteen years, as Shepard vows he had, wouldn’t you be tempted to do the same? Ultimately, Danny takes pity on the guy, and since it was his card that ushered in their new companion, he is the one to make the call. Dagwood sandwich and the gross belches that accompany it notwithstanding, Danny’s astronaut stays.
You may want to make your Dagwood a bit less excessive, at least tapering it down to fit comfortably between your lips. That way you won’t be in danger of following its demise with a similar series of rude oral emanations. If so, I'd suggest cutting back the following recipe by two-thirds.
Named after Dagwood Bumstead, a character in the "Blondie" comic strip, this very tall sandwich is piled high with meats, cheeses, condiments and vegetables for a dramatic presentation. To keep layers from falling over, skewer them on a spindle or with a bamboo skewer.
- 10 slices crusty white bread
- Assorted fresh greens (green leaf, shredded romaine, red leaf and Boston lettuces)
- 1/4 pound each pepperjack cheese, white American cheese, white provolone cheese, cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
- 1/4 pound each turkey, pastrami, salami, Capocollo ham, pepperoni and roast beef, thinly sliced
- 1 ripe large-sized tomato, thinly sliced
- 1/2 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
- 4 pieces Boar's Head bacon, cooked crisp (available in the supermarket meat case)
Building the Sandwich
- Lay out five slices of bread. Layer two with green leaf lettuce. Layer each of the remaining three with one of the following: shredded romaine, red leaf lettuce or Boston lettuce.
- Layer the first green leaf sandwich half with three slices pepperjack cheese, next add turkey and top with four tomato slices. Cover with another slice of bread and place on spindle.
- Layer second green leaf sandwich half with three white American cheese slices, add pastrami slices and top with slice of bread. Place on spindle.
- Layer shredded romaine sandwich half with three slices of provolone cheese; on top of cheese, shingle two slices of salami, Next fold one ham slice and place on salami. Then shingle two slices of pepperoni, fold and add one ham slice; top with yellow peppers and bread slice. Place on spindle.
- Layer red leaf sandwich half with three slices cheddar, two slices tomato, fold and add roast beef; top with bread slice. Place on spindle.
- Layer Boston lettuce sandwich with three slices tomato, add four pieces bacon and top with bread. Place on spindle.
- Garnish top of completed sandwich with cherry tomato skewered by a toothpick or miniature flag of favorite team.
Recipe Source: Culinary.net