The two unsuspecting kids (played by Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson) start playing the game and suddenly their moves on the game board take on an ominous tone. The game spews out instructional cards and whatever's written on the little sheets of paper actually starts occuring in the real world.
The brothers, their dad's house, and their older sister (Kristen Stewart) who's upstairs asleep when she's supposed to be keeping an eye on the boys, all wind up hurtling through space. The squabbling siblings are forced to rescue a stranded astronaut, battle creepy aliens, and work together to figure out a way to get back home safely.
Directed by Jon Favreau ("Elf"), "Zathura" was adapted by David Koepp and John Kamps from a book by Chris Van Allsburg. The PG rated film also stars Dax Shepard as an astronaut who needs a helping hand and Tim Robbins as the kids' divorced dad.
Director Jon Favreau on His Decision to Go With Practical Effects Rather Than Computer Generated: "Im a bit of a nostalgic filmmaker so working with practical effects just makes it more fun for me. On 'Elf' we did stop motion animation. We did forced perspective in camera. And I find that the challenges of presenting the crew with the mission statement of trying to work with practical effects makes it a much more collaborative and creative experience.
On most movies you just shoot the actors, you shoot green screen, and you know everybody sort of says, Okay, we did our jobs. I cant wait to see what it looks like. And then months and months are spent with digital houses. We did some of that in this movie but its so fun to actually shoot real spaceships or have a real robot running around on the set, or real Zorgons built by Stan Winston. It gives the actors, especially young actors, so much to work off of."
Jon Favreau on Casting His Two Young "Zathura" Leads: Favreau really lucked out when he cast Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson in "Zathura." Bobo and Hutcherson are in almost every scene and have to fly around the set, battle aliens, and act like brothers who can barely tolerate one another. And to their credit, each of the young actors does an admirable job of sharing the load and carrying "Zathura."
Commenting on his cast, Favreau said, "Well they were really great. I have to give a lot of the credit to Avy Kaufman, a casting director who has found a lot of the great kids that you see today. But she was very aware of the children actors that are out there. You cant just look at a movie and say, I want to hire that guy, because by the time the movie comes out hes a year older and looks nothing like what the movie was. So youre trusting the judgment of yourself from the interviews and the auditions, and also your casting director.
But it was a tremendous experience working with those guys. You know, kids have wonderful imaginations but theyre terrible liars so you cant ask them to pretend and to lie and to say youre looking at something thats not there. You have to give them something to react off of and having real robots and real Zorgons on the set really helped that."
Jon Favreau on the Scare Factor of "Zathura:" "Zathura" is rated PG for fantasy action and peril, and some language. Favreau said he knew he had a tough call to make when it came to making "Zathura" scary enough to engage audiences but not too scary for the younger kids who make up the film's target audience.
"...I mean, you want the threat to be real but you want it to be about the same level as an animated Disney movie, a classic Disney movie. Then later that tradition was continued by Steven Spielberg with movies like Close Encounters and ET. So on a PG movie, we wanted to make sure we werent going to scare anybody but we didnt want it to be so safe that parents and kids werent engaged in the film. So there was a little bit of a balancing act in the editing room."
Next Up for Jon Favreau: After two consecutive kids movies, Favreau's next project is going to be something a little different. Favreau said, "'John Carter of Mars' is my next movie as of now. Were looking for a writer and Im very excited about working on that film." Favreau also confirmed that as of right this minute, no one has been cast in "John Carter of Mars."
Director Jon Favreau Interview Video from the LA Premiere of "Zathura" - Play the Video