Lowdown: A spaced out Jumanji.
Back in 1995 there was a film called Jumanji. It didn't do that well at the cinemas, but after reading reviews praising the laserdisc as one major reference in sound design I rented it. It did have an excellent soundtrack, but the film sucked big time.
More than a decade later we have Zathura, which is pretty much an exact replica set in space. You have your distressed family, fathered by Tim Robbins, and kids that hate each other's guts. While arguing they find this board game, which takes them out into outer space and puts them through all sorts of deadly horrific tests. The result is that they suddenly love one another and all's well that ends well. That's pretty much it, and the key word is "suddenly": the plot is driven by the horrific tests, and there's no real basis for the change in attitude that takes place between the characters. Yes, shared tough experiences do help in creating a bonding effect, but you need more than that; and in the film it just feels so contrived. The film is extremely bad in this regard: it takes the formula and does nothing to enhance it in any way what so ever; it just follows it to the letter in a very, but very, dull way. I have no idea what Tim Robbins does in a film as lacking and as unoriginal as this one.
That said, the "tests" that befall the kids do constitute some sort of a roller coaster ride, and it is entertaining to one extent or the other; but that's not enough to justify the film's existence. However, as this is a kid's film, I think kids will find some of those scenes too scary.
I don't think there's much point in spending more words on such an uninspiring film. It is basically an exact replica of Jumanji but with a different setting. Or, to put it another way, the studios are selling us the same product all over again.
Corniest scene: The older version of one of the kids merges with its child version. Makes you puke at what they feed into kids' minds these days.
Picture quality: No artifacts, but color fidelity is truly bad. Flesh tones appear as yellows and oranges.
Sound quality: Pretty impressive, but nothing special for an action film.
Overall: 1 star.