But there’s one movie in the franchise that wasn’t so successful that you’ve probably forgotten even existed. Zathura: A Space Adventure was made back in 2005 and focused on a space-themed board game that affected real life.
Zathura was based on Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book of the same name, which he wrote specifically as a sequel to his illustrated bestseller Jumanji – and the books were directly connected.
At the end of Jumanji (the book), the main characters throw away the board game but their neighbours, Walter and Danny, find it. Zathura (the book) starts with them finding Jumanji, losing interest in it and then discovering the titular space-themed board game underneath.
There’s been some debate about how far the movie adaptation can be considered part of on-screen Jumanji canon as it follows the book quite closely but never mentions Jumanji. In fact, there’s no direct reference to the original movie at all.
Director Jon Favreau recognised that the film had a similar theme but didn’t want it to be considered a Jumanji sequel.
“They both share the motif of fantastic events emanating from a game. But, by the same token, Zathura has a very different sensibility, shares none of the same characters and takes place on the other side of the country,” he explained.
“I don’t want to mislead people to think this is a sequel, whether you liked the first movie and hope to see more of it, or didn’t like it and wouldn’t want to see anything related to it.”
However, Sony marketed the film as part of the Jumanji franchise.
They even revamped the posters to include a reference to the original movie so that audiences would be aware of the connection. The official trailer even declares that the movie is a “new adventure from the world of Jumanji“.
The movie focuses on two bickering brothers: domineering Walter, aged ten (The Hunger Games‘ Josh Hutcherson) and imaginative Danny, aged six.
When their Dad leaves them alone with their older sister (Kristen Stewart, no less), Danny finds a board game that moves counters and spits out cards through a wind-up mechanism. The first card refers to meteors and, in seconds, small balls of fire start wrecking their house. Before long, the boys discover they’re in space.
They have to keep playing to escape, even though everything written on the cards comes true. The cards lead to their sister becoming frozen solid, the appearance of a defective robot aiming to destroy them and a fleet of flesh-eating lizard-like aliens called Zorgons surrounding their house. Crikey.
Finally, one card actually helps them. It summons the Astronaut (Dax Shepard), a grumpy figure who gives them tips to survive and becomes extremely irritated by their constant fighting. It’s later revealed that he’s a future version of Walter who got stuck in the game after he wished that his brother was never born.
Eventually, Danny’s counter lands on Zathura, which turns out to be a black hole. It sucks up everything: the aliens, their sister and even Walter, before taking them back to the moment before they started playing.
The unfortunate thing about its fading away from memory is that Zathura: A Space Adventure is actually good, successfully combining action and adventure with a realistic look at sibling relationships.
Critics generally gave the film favourable reviews, but the movie tanked at the box office and the problem was timing.
It was overshadowed by Chicken Little in its first week, but the big mistake was deciding to release Zathura one week before Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. It ended up losing over 60% of its box office returns in only its second week, and eventually made $64,321,501 worldwide on a reported budget of $65 million.
If it had been successful, who knows, maybe we could have seen a new movie in the Jumanji series years before Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle arrived. As it is, no one mentions Zathura when talking about the Jumanji movies.
But with Jumanji: The Next Level taking place in mountains and deserts, as well as the familiar jungle, the writers might look back at a little-known movie in the franchise and set the next movie in space…
Jumanji: The Next Level is released in UK cinemas on December 11, with previews on December 7 and 8, and is released in US cinemas on December 13.
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