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Scene Analysis of Blast off to space: Zathura – A space adventure

Analysis done by Devyani Verma


Zathura, a movie based on the concept of Robin Williams’ Jumaji (1995), is an English Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie released in 2005. Having a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, the film stars then child actor Josh Hutcherson and then teenage actress Kristen Stewart (the famous Twilight actress). The film revolves around two brothers – a young Danny and a ‘mature’ Walter, played by Jonah Bobo and Hutcherson.

The former of the two siblings, out of boredom at his divorced father’s house, decides to engage himself in the board game ‘Zathura: A Space Adventure’. His older brother (Hutcherson) seems to resent Danny for being a reason behind the divorce, and doesn’t pay attention to his wandering brother’s discovery of the board game. Remember when your parents made you in-charge of the house? Well, let’s just say you should follow through with it. Little after starting the board game, the brothers – along with their sleeping sister Lisa (Stewart) – and their father’s house, are quite literally launched into space. It is only then that the brothers realise the true impact of the game.

Screen-grab from Zathura: A Space Adventure

In order to return back to Earth, the brothers realise they must play the game together, not as two different people, but as one family. The love and bond between the three siblings is tested, but are they able to overcome all odds, accept each other, and return home alive? Throw in an estranged astronaut, lizard-looking aliens who eat human meat, a rogue robot, and shooting stars into the mix – will it be more chaotic than imaginable? Oh, and don’t forget, adventuring in space can be a tough ride in itself. Do the siblings realise their bond and return home safe and sound, or is one of them wished off in the game? Only one way of knowing – join the adventure yourself.

Lead cast

  • Josh Hutcherson – Walter
  • Kristen Stewart – Lisa
  • Jonah Bobo – Danny
  • Dax Shepard – Astronaut
  • Tim Robbins – Dad

I had watched the film as a kid when it was released. Back then, for me it was a movie of aliens and space-ships, planets and stars, and fun and games. Watching the movie excited me as a kid for I couldn’t expect what would be the next challenge thrown at the three siblings.

However, when I watched the movie again recently, I realised the movie was drastically different from what I’d thought of it at a younger age. It depicted the transformation of a bitter and untrusting bond during trying times. It depicted that with faith, love and patience, the problems of our world and beyond can be overcome. It taught not to act in anger and to be brave in the face of danger.

Screen-grab from Zathura: A Space Adventure

The story deals with beautiful character developments throughout the movie, and I chose the film due to it’s nostalgic element for me, along with the plot and character development it shows.

The scene selected for analysis

The scene time is about 1 minute long, however it covers multiple actions and shots. Moreover, it shows a stark change in the attitude of the two brothers within the minute itself.

In the scene, which marks the beginning of the space adventure, a curious Danny starts to play the game ‘Zathura: A Space Adventure’ out of boredom. Unaware of the aftermath, he is pleasantly surprised with the working of the game – the space-like drawings over the board, the spaceships used as game pieces, the numbers and buttons on the board, and the concept of a twisting key and popping cards.

Screen-grab from Zathura: A Space Adventure

(the scene starts from here-)

However, since Danny is too young to read heavy worded sentences, and has trouble reading words, he demands his brother help him with the game. A disinterested and distrusting Walter (as shown in the beginning of the movie) dryly does as requested while lounging on the single-seater couch, seemingly too busy with the baseball game which premiers on the Sports Centre channel playing on the television in their living room.

Zathura film analysis
Screen-grab from Zathura: A Space Adventure

On the brink of another banter, the siblings are rudely interrupted as an object lands on the floor next to them, burning a whole through the card and the floor. This object is later revealed as a meteor. Their shock at the incident turns to panic as the living room is attacked with multiple such objects, and the floor beneath them begins to shake. Frozen in panic, it takes Danny’s exclamation of, “It’s meteors!” for the siblings to snap out of their state, and try to get out of the way of the heavy meteors falling in the living room from the roof of their house.

While this chaos unfolds – the siblings running in circles in their living room trying to escape the meteor shower – the scene cuts to a sleeping Lisa who doesn’t pay mind to the disturbance downstairs, her music, and needs for sleep being her priority. The last part of the scene shows a contrast in the same situation.

The detailed shot analysis using Mise-en-scene elements of the film are given below:

Shot #Acting/SettingCinematography/ LightingEditingSoundComments
  In this column you note the shot number  In this column you describe significant aspects of character blocking, and notable acting moments.  In this column, you describe the camera distance and angle, any camera movement, the composition of the frame, depth of field. You might also note when a shot is similar to a previous shot.  In this column, you describe the editing and other shot transitions that you see.   In this column, you describe the use of sound.  Consider dialogue, sound effects and music, if present.    In this column you analyze, ask questions, suggest interpretation, note oppositions or repetitions or similarities. You begin to do the work of writing your essay analysis by noting things that stand out to you.
1. (0:19:05)(from Walter’s point of view (pov)) He is watching a sports channel (baseball) on TV, in the living room of his father’s house. While watching, his younger brother (Danny) puts the game card of Zathura (a board game found by Danny earlier, around which the film revolves) in front of Walter’s line of vision, shifting his focus from the screen and onto the card. Danny wants Walter to read the card for him as Danny is unable to do it himself, and Walter’s hand is seen grabbing the card from Danny’s fingersSubjective shot.   The camera is aimed at the TV screen. When Danny introduces the card in the frame, the focus of the camera shifts on the card. There is a slight pause, which lets us read what the card says. At the end of the shot, Walter’s hand appears in the frame too, grabbing the card from DannyThe editing gives a shift of focus from the TV screen and onto the card (which has newly entered the frame). This lets us see the change in what Walter is viewing, and how the card is in the way of him viewing the sports channel on his TVIt is quiet in the background, with only the slight sound of the Baseball match (playing on the TV) in the background.   Danny asks Walter: “Read this for me”Danny takes his older sibling Walter’s help to read what the game card says, as Danny is young and is unable to read properly yet. In the earlier scenes, it is shown that the three siblings – Danny (youngest, boy), Walter (a few years older than Danny, boy) and Lisa (their much older but teen sister) – are staying at their divorced father’s house, which is to undergo renovation once their father gets rewarded on a client deal. The father’s work is spoiled by the boys however, as they fight over meaningless banter (it is clear since the beginning that all of them have strained bonds). Danny and Walter are only able to tolerate so much of each other’s presence and Walter (in an attempt to be “mature”) adopts an indifferent and dry attitude.
2. (0:19:08)Walter reads out the instructions on the card – “Meteor Shower. Take evasive action” – in an indifferent tone. His body language indicates he is bored or upset, and he doesn’t want to interact with his sibling. When Danny seeks clarification on the meaning of the card, Walter clarifies, to which Danny asks what he should not get in the way of. Walter replies dryly but with slight annoyance that he doesn’t know, and he was only reading aloud the card. When he responds, this is the first time during the scene that Walter actually looks at Danny. However, while Walter is responding, he is cut off mid-sentence by a hot and small object falling through the card (presumably from the ceiling)Objective shot – Mid shot.   The frame consists of Danny and Walter, with Walter sitting on the single-seater couch in a boring body posture and Danny standing next to his brother. We also see bookshelves in the background and the couch on which Walter is reclining. Later, towards the end of the shot, an object (seemingly a meteor) enters the frame and goes right through the game cardThe entry of the meteor shocks the viewers, as it is sudden. Moreover, the brightness of the scene shifts a little due to the fire-lit meteor which enters the frameDialogue- Walter: “Meteor shower. Take evasive action” Danny: “What’s evasive action” Walter: “It’s when you get out of the way of something” Danny: “What exactly am I supposed to get out of the way of, exactly?” Walter: “I have no idea. All it says is take evasive ac-”   The sounds for the majority of the shot are suppressed, with only the sound of TV slightly audible. At the end of the scene, the sound of paper tearing/burning is heard, or the sound of a shot fired.The mid shot indicated the lack of movement by Walter as Danny talks to his brother. Danny turns towards his brother to question him further, but even as Danny talks to him, Walter’s tone remains dry and his eyes remain glued to the TV. On Danny’s insistent questioning, Walter turns towards him in annoyance but is interrupted by the falling meteor
3. (0:19:22)The shot is now either from Danny or Walter’s pov, where they are looking at the hole made on the card from the object, and the card looks burnt on the circumference of the hole. The focus shifts from the card to the object that is now on the floor. It has burnt a quite huge hole on the wooden flooring as well, and slight steam is rising out of it.Subjective shot.   From POV of either Danny or Walter, looking at the now burnt paper. The focus shifts from the paper and onto the floor, where the meteor has burnt a hole into the wooden flooring.The shift in focus from the game card to the burnt hole in the floor indicates that something major is about to take place The last second of the shot, where steam leaves the burnt hole, indicates that the object (discovered as a meteor) was most likely on fireSuspenseful music plays in the background. Sports game sound mutedThe scene has now started unfolding. It is evident that something big is about to happen
4. (0:19:24)Walter’s body language finally changes (from aloof and indifferent and bored to confused, shocked, curious) and so does Danny, as they look closely at the burnt hole on the wooden flooring. Both are in disbelief of what they witnessed.Objective shot –  mid-shot.   The frame is the same as the second shot, with the difference that earlier the card held by Walter was intact and now it has a burnt hole at the centre.Suspenseful music plays in the background. Sports game sound mutedThe scene has now started unfolding. It is evident that something big is about to happen
5. (0:19:27)The shot focuses on the burnt hole on the wooden floor again (from either’s pov), out of which steam is arising.Subjective shot   From POV of either Danny or Walter, looking at the hole in the floor again. The floor is at a close-up, showing the damage made by the falling meteorA wisp of smoke leaves the burnt hole againSuspenseful music plays in the background. The sports game sound is muted. The music grows intense.The scene has now started unfolding. It is evident that something big is about to happen
6. (0:19:28)The two boys follow the trail of the object which has burnt their floor (from their current position, out of which they haven’t moved yet – presumably due to shock). They look up, towards their ceiling.The frame is a mid-shot of the boys again. Their heads now follow the trail of the fallen meteor and they look up at the ceilingMystical sound in the music is enhanced. A confused tune (presumably of piano or flute) plays, indicating the confusion of the boysThe look on the boys’ faces has slowly started transforming. From being expressionless with shock, it has transformed into slight disbelief and the shock is now more evident.
7. (0:19:30)The hole is seen on the ceiling as well, indicating that the object had fallen from above. Even the hole at the ceiling has steam coming out of it.Subjective shot.   Danny and Walter are now looking at the hole in the ceiling (close up of ceiling)A trail of dust falls from the hole at the ceilingThe confused tune plays further. Sound of the game playing on the TV becomes prominent again.The viewer has now started to join the dots, much like the two boys.
8. (0:19:31)The boys look back down from the ceiling, and the static noise suddenly coming from the TV draws their eyes towards it – they look at the TV in shockThe boys turn their head from the ceiling and to the TV. Mid shot of Danny and WalterTV becomes subtly  static. Confused tune plays furtherA literal depiction of ‘joining the dots’ as the boys look at the ceiling and towards the now static TV. They know something is happening.
9. (0:19:33)We see the TV now – the sports channel is gone and instead there is the grey static displaying on the TV.Subjective shot.   TV is dominantly taking up the frame.Static of the TV. Main focus on the TV, not the assisting elements in the frame.Static of TV becomes prominentThe TV having static shows that the falling of the meteor has set off a chain of events
10. (0:19:35)The shot switches back to the boys, where they are looking at the TV with shock and confusion plastered on their faces, their mouths slightly opened and their body language completely different from before. Slowly, the house starts to shake – as though encountering an earthquake – and the boys slowly look back up at the ceilingMid shot of boys again.   Camera starts to shake along with the rest of the furniture, indicating that the house is facing turbulence and might most likely be going through an earthquakeShaking of the camera to give the effect of turbulenceStatic of TV. Confused Tune. Creaking of furniture. Shaking of objects. Falling of dust.  Now everyone involved in the scene – the characters and viewers – are confused. They are wondering if this is an Earthquake or something else entirely?
11. (0:19:38)We see the ceiling now (from either’s pov) and it is shaking more strongly than before. It is evident something wrong is about to occurSubjective shot of ceiling, close up and slow dolly inStatic becomes subtle. Creaking becomes more prominent. Ceiling sounds like it will fall offThe anxiety of the scene is rising – is it an earthquake? Will the ceiling fall? What is to happen now?
12. (0:19:41)The shot changes and we see the boys looking at the ceiling with mouths open and a mixture of shock, disbelief and confusion on their face. The couch, floor and walls have all now started shaking strongly.Objective shot High Angle –   showing Walter, Danny, and the board game in one frame. A shot of dominance indicating that the people in the frame are about to be vulnerable to a situationDolly in Slight shakingMusic grows in intensity. Urgency of music also increases. Turbulent sounds also become prominent. Static of TV can also be heardThe dolly in and shaking during this scene, along with the audio given to this scene, makes it pose as a threat to the boys. Either the ceiling will fall on the boys or something threatening will come towards the boys through the ceiling
13. (0:19:44)While the boys are looking up, another object (looking like a small meteor) falls with high speed on the floor from the ceiling, creating another hole. The sudden introduction of the fire-lit object catches the eyes of the boys and they turn their heads towards it with a snapObjective shot – Wide-angle shot   capturing the body language of the boys (frozen with shock), the last shot of the living room before havoc wrecks it, and capturing multiple disasters about to happen across the roomSound of a meteor falling from the ceiling.There are more than just a few meteors coming for the boys, and they are evidently going to bring a lot of harm. But with the rapid fall of more and more meteors, no one is unable to snap out of the shock and take a step to safety
14. (0:19:45)We see a close up of both the boys now, and they are evidently scared and confused by witnessing what is happening. The chair also starts rockingObjective shot – mid-close-up-shot   The reaction of the boys is capturedThe transitioning of scenes becomes as urgent as the environment of the sceneMusic changes to one denoting panic. Sound of another thing in the living room getting destroyed.    Looking at the face of two scared boys, we realise slowly that although Walter was working on seeming the ‘mature’ one in the beginning of the film, he still remains a child who is shocked and scared at the turn of events. We realise the mix of shock, disbelief, fear, confusion and astonishment on the boys’ faces.
15. (0:19:46)Another meteor falls and breaks an object and a framed photograph in the roomSubjective shot- Close up of (presumably) the fireplaceMusic changes to one denoting panic. Sound of another thing in the living room getting destroyed.We now realise that the meteors are very much harmful and can cause serious destruction and hurt to the boys.
16. (0:19:46)The shot once again switches to the close up of the boys, and Danny exclaims aloud by seeing the objects crush. Walter also now looks more scared and shocked than he did before. Meanwhile, the couch and floor keeps shaking stronglyObjective shot – mid-close-up-shot   The reaction of the boys is captured  Rapid switch back to the protagonists, however the lingering of the shot till Danny’s exclamation is enough to capture the emotion depictedMusic changes to one denoting panic. Sound of another thing in the living room getting destroyed.   Danny exclaims, “Grandma!”The boys realise our fear for them soon after we do. A break in Walter’s usually stoic face brings out the child in him more, showing us a revelation of sorts of his character – that although Walter acts tough, he isn’t. Rather, he is brave and more practical, not panicking unlike his younger brother Danny.
17. (0:19:49)Another meteor falls behind the boys and Danny jerks his head behind. Walter follows the action, and both of them witness multiple meteors falling through the ceiling and inside the room. The frequency of the meteors progresses, and both the boys flinch with the increase in speed and size of the meteors.Objective shot – close mid shot   The frame is slightly turbulent, depicting the lack of stability of the situationThe frame shifts focus from the boys (the focus is on them initially) to the background, to reveal the destruction happening behind themThe music has a feeling of impending doom towards it. The other sounds in the shot comprise of glass breaking and objects shattering. Frequency of this increases as shot progressesThe multiple-meteor fall is slowly converting to a meteor shower, and the boys realise the destruction it is leaving in their wake. Their body is twisting according to the falling of meteors and their reaction is less rigid than before. Towards the end of the scene, due to the scary situation the boys are in and given the proximity, they start to flinch slightly
18. (0:19:55)Danny finally acknowledges and exclaims aloud that the objects falling in their living room are meteors. He shouts in panic “Its meteors”, and his expression morphs into a scared oneObjective shot – close up   The frame is only focusing on Danny now, with Walter slightly visible in the blurred background. The frame is shaking violently nowFocus on Danny. Lingering shot to capture expression. Shot change as soon as Danny delivers the dialogue, depicting that the boys have snapped out of their shock with Danny’s exclamationWhile chaos unfolds in the background and more objects break, Danny exclaims loudly, “It’s meteors!”Danny saying the words (we’d been thinking) aloud is what it takes to make us realise the extent of fear and destruction this scene possesses. Walter is seen shifting in his seat after Danny delivers the dialogue. The shake in the frame gives us the effect that the walls are going to fall
19. (0:19:57)Danny starts running in circles, clearly panicking, and stumbles on his words. He tries to avoid the falling meteors by running in circles and Walter follows suit, jumping off the single-seater couch and running in circles to avoid getting hit by the oncoming meteors.Objective shot – Wide Angle   The shot captures various elements, such as, Meteor shower The game in the frame The surrounding environment, such as the hamster cage or the couch or the table on which a chessboard rests The boys finally break off their fixed stance, running around the room. With the help of the wide angle, we can see how they are trying to avoid getting hit while running in circles. Full body movement in understandable   Moreover, the camera is shaking, to emphasise the earthquake-like effect shown in the previous shotsShaking camera. The scene isn’t changed as rapidly as before, denoting the importance of the scene in the context.Objects break in the background. Meteor falling sound is very prominent – like firecrackers. Walter’s jump from the couch – the sound of his footsteps, although overpowered by the sound of meteors. Walter grunting as he escapes the falling meteors. Danny’s repetition of the instructions off the card, although said incorrectly, “Take errasive action!”  We panic as the boys panic. Danny’s lack of pronunciation makes his child-like behaviour stand out, making us already sympathize and empathize with the boys. We are worried of them getting hurt as they dodge the meteors. The boys have completely snapped out of the stoic state they were in, now running in panic. In the wide frame, some eyes catch the game or the crashing objects or the running and dodging, etc. The relatively long duration of this scene lets us observe the exact destruction being caused.
20. (0:20:03- 0:20:09)The shot cuts to Lisa (Danny and Walter’s older sister) and she is seen lying in her bed (in the same house). She has headphones on and music playing and seems to be slightly awoken by the disturbance of the meteor shower in the living room. She increases the volume of her song, turns in her bed, and falls back to sleep.Objective shot – Dolly in (from slightly broader than mid shot but not entirely long shot)   The camera is stable and moving towards Lisa, capturing her sleeping body language at the end of the sceneThe audio in this scene is very suppressed, making it feel like it is not just Lisa who has worn her headphones, but the whole room is cloaked with some amount of silence. The dolly in movement also makes us wait in anticipation of Lisa’s reaction or actionMusic from Lisa’s iPod (or MP3 player) plays. It can be heard, although it is slightly muted as it is playing out of the headphones she has worn for the shot. The sound of meteors falling is very low but there. Lisa eventually increases the volume of her headphones, drowning out the chaotic noise downstairsThis shot shows a strong contrast in the scene. While chaos violently unfolds downstairs, Lisa (who is in her room upstairs in the same house), is almost peacefully sleeping, cuddled in her bed. The contrast is also that even though Lisa is in the warmth and safety of the blanket, her siblings are under grave danger. While Lisa’s reaction is anticipated, she does as expected – ignore the havoc her brothers are having downstairs (her attitude is similar earlier in the film, when her dad asks her to watch over her brothers). Lisa turns in her bed and falls back to sleep after increasing the volume of her music, leaving us with a sigh of disbelief at her careless teenager attitude
The detailed shot analysis

In such a short span, the movie still manages to show a change in two of the three siblings. This gives the movie a great opportunity on character development, which it does achieve throughout the movie. We see Walter being more than just the ‘mature’ boy he claims himself to be – we also see fear in his eyes and bewilderment on his face, neither of those hidden by him. The expression caught is raw of fear, which shows us that he is different from what he shows himself to be, unlike his younger brother Danny.

Moreover, it shows how the relationship between the three siblings was either dry or indifferent. However, eventually towards the end of the movie, their bond develops as well. Perhaps this was a teaching to stick together, even though their family is somewhat broken due to the recent divorce of their parents.

It may be noted that the actors lacked some much necessary expressions, however that factor can be slightly dismissed given the fact that all of them were child actors during the time.

Screen-grab from Zathura: A Space Adventure

The movie’s family bond in the beginning also gave us insight into how a western household looks like post separation of parents. It also brings forth how some children are demanded to grow faster than others, some are left behind, and some become indifferent to this demand.

The action in this scene moves from slow, to rapid change in shots, to slow and lingering shots again. This is done, according to me, to bring out the joining-of-dots factor, the urgency factor, and the reaction factor.

(More description and understanding and conclusion on this scene has been elaborated in the missing-scenes table made above)

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