Two boys are left home alone by their father one day. As they strive to combat boredom and keep themselves entertained, they find a dusty old game in the attic and begin playing. The game, called “Zathura,” winds up taking them (and their house) into outer space and on a grand adventure.

If this sounds an awful lot like “Jumanji,” the embarrassing Robin Williams-starring disaster from a few years back, you’re not alone. I myself thought just that when I first started hearing about the movie a few months back. Of course – and this should be made clear to everyone who doesn’t already know it – I’m an idiot and didn’t realize that the similarity might, just might, be partly due to the fact that the book the movie is based on is by the same author as “Jumanji.”

The release of the movie comes at a time when young adult fantasy films (much different from older adult fantasy films) are everywhere. Harry Potter is a yearly event, like the running of the bulls only with more people getting poked in the a*s, and the first film in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series hits screens soon.

The Poster

First off, let’s just point out that the damn poster says “A new adventure from the world of Jumanji.” That’s how big of an idiot I am. It’s on the friggin’ poster.

Anyway, the poster is pretty cool. The main graphic element is the house, with the boys just barely visible in the front door, hanging in space. It’s a pretty cool poster that I can see very easily appealing to the younger boys and girls walking through theater lobbies with their parents. The bright colors are eye-catching and of course space is a pretty solid bet with young boys yet to be disillusioned and eventually winding up as frustrated men wiling their lives away in a cubicle while harboring delusions of a writing career.

I may have veered off track there. Let’s try to recover our momentum.

The Trailer

What the hell is Tim Robbins doing here? Seriously. I’m going to convince myself that he’s going to donate his salary from the movie to some sort of ultra-liberal cause. He plays the dad who, at the least, is shortsited in not locking up a boardgame that could transport his kids to outer space. Once he leaves the house, the kids find the titular game and hijinks involving meteors, robots and meat eating villians ensue.

For a kids’ movie it works pretty well and does a decent job of not patronizing the audience. It might actually be a movie that’s suitable for the entire family. Lately, that designation means less that the suject matter appeals to all ages and more that the talking animals make pop-culture references, so a true family film is actually rarer than most would have you believe.

The Website

There are quite a few options you’re presented with before you even open and enter the full site. First, you can Play the Games. There are about 10 or 12 games you can play (counting the “Jr.” versions of some). The one I played the longest was “Meteor Shower”, recognizable to anyone over the age of 25 as a variation on “Asteroids”. I played this one for about 20 minutes before I figured my boss was due to walk by at any time. There are also pages for “Worldwide Release Dates”, a list of promotional partners under “Promotions”, a place to “Read Reviews of Zathura” and then a “Mobile Site” where you can download wallpapers for your cell phone. Finally, on this entry page is a section to “Download Teaching Guides.” On that page there are guides, posters and sweepstakes entry information for all age groups. It’s a great way to reach out to the acedemic community as they strive for as many ways to make learning enjoyable for students. Nice touch.

Finally getting into the full site the content is divided into four main sections. “The Movie” contains a Synopsis which informs you that “Zathura” is not only from the same guy who gave us “Jumanji” but also “Polar Express.” Links has links (duh) to Houghton Mifflin, publisher of the book, Take 2, the company who made the tie-in video game and Uglydolls, whose dolls are apparently featured in the film. Don’t even bother with the “Characters” or “Cast & Crew” sections since, as of this writing, they’re labeled as still “Coming Soon.”

“Media” is surprisingly sparse, with just the trailer and a Photo Gallery that only has seven pictures. “Downloads”, too, is pretty bare. Here you’ll only find three wallpapers, some Buddy Icons and the ability to “Share Zathura.” That feature is not very userfriendly. It first asks you to select a section of the site that you’d like to share and then gives you some text and a hyperlink to, as the instructions say, copy and paste into an email or instant messaging program.

The last section is called “Play Zathura” which I took to mean an online version of the game from the movie. In actuallity it just takes you to the same online games as the front page of the site, but with the addition of providing information on where to buy the game in stores.

Branded Entertainment

A few weeks before the movie opened, “Zathura” was featured on an episode of the NBC reality show “The Apprentice.” The two teams were tasked with creating a “Zathura”-themed float for an upcoming parade. Both teams tried to incorporate elements from the movie into their float but one was clearly better than the other. Even more importantly the movie’s name was repeated over and over and director Jon Favreau made an appearance to help judge the winner.


The campaign for “Zathura” is pretty strong. The trailer is exciting and doesn’t pander to the kids or the adults for cheap laughs. The website could be stronger, but that’s not surprising. The poster is eye-catching and does a good job of conveying a sense of adventure. I have to say, though, that the product placement on “The Apprentice” was among the stronger elements. It got the viewer involved and invested in an aspect of creation, even if it’s in a voyeuristic manner. You rooted for one team or another. You commented to your spouse, partner or friend on what designs were working or not. It was a great opportunity to raise interest in the movie and a bold move by Sony.

As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Movie Marketing Madness blog.

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