Zathura (2005)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins

Having never seen "Zathura" in theaters or even on DVD, I chose to blind buy a UMD copy of the film. Thankfully I soon discovered that I would be rewarded for my purchasing gamble. Something I was not aware of prior to viewing "Zathura" is that the film comes under the label "A New Adventure from the World of Jumanji", which makes a whole lot of sense to me now, given that "Zathura" also revolves around a magically charged adventure generating board game.

Twelve year old Walter Budwing (Josh Hutcherson) and his younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) try to find activities to keep their boredom at bay while spending time with their workaholic and recently separated father, played by Tim Robbins. Choosing to work, rather than take the day off to pay more attention to his sons, the boys come up with their own means of filling the idle time. With Walter taking on the "I'm too grown up for you" attitude towards his younger brother, leads Danny to more mischief. When their father leaves for his office and places the boys under the brief care their completely uninterested older sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart), things take an adventurous turn when over-curious Danny discovers an old space-themed board game named "Zathura" that possess some pretty cool magical powers. When Danny attempts to play this game himself, Walter quickly learns that he has no choice but to join in on the game when a simple turn of the key and push of the button starts a series of events that sends the Budwig's home off into the depths of outer space! Taking the boys on an adventure of a lifetime!

Not realizing how they will ever return home, both Walter and Danny realize that they must complete the board game successfully in order to return home safely. With each new turn of the game bringing everything from a visiting defective robot and attacking meat-eating aliens called Zorgons to cryogenically freezing their own sister! Also along for the ride is a wandering astronaut (Dax Shepard), who also seems to have lost his way around the universe. Teaming up with Walter and Danny, this mysterious astronaut takes on the task of helping the boys to navigate the game as safe as possible to return them home in one piece, with a few surprising twists along the way.

Presenting a true action packed space travel adventure for the whole family, I had a great time with "Zathura". The only downside to the story is the constant whining and bickering between Walter and Danny, but then again, such is life between two competing brothers. Director Jon Favreau uses just the right moments to add in his brand of humor and wit that easily puts his stamp on this rather cleverly written film by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote the supposed prequel "Jumanji". Featuring dazzling visual effects and a well paced story, "Zathura" is sure to entertain, as long as you're willing to suspend your disbelief for the duration of the film.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment puts fourth a good presentation of "Zathura" for the UMD release of the film. Solid color saturation highlights everything from the vast spectrum of outer space to maintaining naturally appearing flesh tones throughout. Although the blacks provide good image detail, I thought that overall levels appeared slightly weak and could have easily been a bit richer in depth. The transfer comes free and clear of any dust or dirt particles, with the slightest evidence of minor aliasing becoming evident on Tim Robbins stripped shirt during the beginning of the film. Even though the presentation is not considered to be of reference quality, "Zathura" still manages to make a fine showing on UMD.

The UMD packaging claims that "Zathura" comes complete with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Now doing a little research, I discovered that the PSP system only allows for either PCM or ACTRAC3 2.0 stereo sound, with the only exception being the encoded Dolby Headphone process that takes a 2.0 soundtrack and mimics a 5.1 presentation, so this is simply a case of mislabeled packaging. The provided 2.0 soundtrack produces quite an impressive soundstage throughout, with a decent level of bass and vocal tracks that remain natural in reproduction. From the beginning of the outer space action through to the end of the film, "Zathura" will offer you a virtual sonic feast for the senses.

This is another UMD that unfortunately does not include anything in the way of added value materials. If you want behind-the-scenes footage and the like, then DVD is probably the way to go. If you find yourself on-the-go and want a decent presentation of "Zathura" to take with you, then the UMD might be just what you're after.