Video games might lose their appeal if toy makers could find a way to make all board games as interactive as Zathura. The antique, metal playing surface, outfitted with a windup key and tiny rocket ships, sends the players literally shooting into space.
Unfortunately, Danny (Jonah Bobo) has no idea what the consequences will be when he finds the game hidden beneath the stairs in the family's basement.
He and his older brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) have been left in the care of their distracted, teenaged sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart), while dad (Tim Robbins) makes a quick dash to the office. Walter, a world-weary 10-year-old, jaded by the demands of fourth grade and the responsibilities of a girlfriend, isn't interested in participating. He'd rather catch up on the sports highlights than play with the younger 6-year-old, especially since Danny has a reputation for cheating.
But when the first card pops out of the game board dispenser, warning the constantly bickering boys of an impending meteorite shower, the brothers know this isn't going to be your average Monopoly game.
Flung into the far reaches of the universe, the siblings have to navigate their way home by taking turns spinning the controls. While hurtling back through the cosmos, they must side step a gravitational field, withstand an attack by heat-seeking Zorgons and gain an appreciation for one another. Luckily they get some help from a stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard) they find drifting through outer space.
The explosive onslaught from the Zorgons makes for some prolonged, intense moments of peril that may leave younger space travelers squirming in their seats. The script includes other scenes of suspense when a defective robot tries to annihilate the boys and meat-eating aliens clamber into the house looking for dinner--meaning anything human. It also results in an auditory assault on the eardrums.
Parents may have concerns with the kids' rampant name calling, including the use of some sexual slang. Warning children about the real hazards of soaking the couch in lighter fluid or using a blow torch may also be important for impressionable youngsters.
Yet while the film bogs down in a time warp during part of the journey, the director manages to pick up the pace by the end of the film giving Danny, Walter and many audience members a romping, galactic adventure.