Review: Zathura (2005)

Composer: John Debney

Label: Varese Sarabande

Catalogue Nr.: VSD-6750

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The sci-fi fantasy adventure Zathura is based on a book by the author of The Polar Express (2004) and Jumanji (1995) Chris Van Allsburg and can easily be summed up as Jumanji in space: Two brothers find a strange board game named Zathura in the basement of their house and when they start playing it the mayhem suddenly breaks loose. Their house is catapulted into space and they have to face meteor showers, space battles and other things while they have to win the game and reach the planet Zathura in order to return to earth. The movie lives from the game's surprises that make the predictable plot kind of interesting and the critical response was already quite decent. Sadly, the film already fails to generate enough interest from the audience to be a real hit mainly due to the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).

The score:

If there is one composer who would be able provide a film like Zathura with the necessary adventurous sound then it must be John Debney. He previously worked with Zathura-director Jon Favreau on Elf (2003) at a time when he was still pigeonholed in scoring comedies. Now, two years later,  Debney has a wealth of new scoring assignments coming up after his critically acclaimed and successful score for Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (2004) which earned him an academy award nomination. Thanks to this enormous success, Debney is now able to abandon comedies and create the kind of scores which originally made him famous: big bold orchestral adventure scores. In fact, Zathura was the first time that Debney could unleash his creativity on an adventure movie since his legendary work for Cutthroat Island in 1995.

His score for Zathura sounds like a comic space version of Cutthroat Island at times but it is actually much more than that and very rich of musical colours. Almost every cue has a small musical gem to offer. "Main Titles" is introducing a rousing and adventurous main theme composition with big choir and blaring brass fanfares though one can't help but think of Cutthroat Island here. Debney is using this heroic theme very sparse throughout the score. "Finding the Game" offers some low-key mysterious music for flutes and goes into a slow statement of the main theme for choir and horns. Tension builds up in "Meteor Shower" which goes into a frenetic and brassy action cue. More of the same will follow later but "Aftermath" offers a calm moment to gasp with more mysterious music with soft string sounds waving into a variation of the main theme as the boys are realizing that their house is now floating through space. A slight hint of Jerry Goldsmith's score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) is evident near the end of the cue with strings representing the floating of the house through space before another fanfare ends the cue.

"Robot Grows / Chase / Standoff" is a 4 minute cue which is switching between tension and action music. Dramatically frenetic music for choir and brass is heard as the house is floating "Too Close To The Sun" while the score gets even darker as "Zorgons' Appearance" strikes with atonal horn riffs (which can be seen as a re-occurring motif) and grim male choir which is later foreshadowing "Zorgons' Return". "They're Not Friendly" offers some bouncy action music with piano riffs and loud percussion strikes. Suspense music with a nice usage of woodwinds can be heard at the beginning of "Couch Decoy" which also has some tension-building string writing. A sad theme is introduced on a celesta in the "Astronaut's Story" with a low-key solo trumpet statement at the end. "The Dumbwaiter" has some low-key suspense scoring for strings and a cheap staccato-shock. A lengthier cue comes with "Stealing The Game" which consists of big orchestral mickey-mousing rising up to pounding action outbursts at times.

A dark opening with menacing fanfares and striking metallic percussion sounds going into a masterful heroic statement of the main theme can be heard in "Robot's Revenge". This is actually the only usage of the full theme in one of the action cues. Strings and choir are slowly rising in "Shooting Star Card" before "Brother to Brother" brings in more emotional music and another magical outburst of the choir at its end. A big action cue with militaristic drums, occasional statements of the main theme and a big choral and orchestral climax accompany the finale in "Danny Wins The Game" and "Zathura Is A Black Hole" (talking about spoilers in track names). "Back Home" and "Home Again" both give a positive conclusion with strings, woodwinds and solo trumpet creating a relaxing and warm sound for the film's predictable happy ending.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 85%

Score as heard on CD: 83%

TOTAL: 84%

 

The presentation:

The Varese Sarabande release offers 44 minutes of score which is a nice overall-presentation of the score. The re-use fees deal with the musicians union really starts to pay off now. It would be doubtful if such a lengthy CD release of an expensive score like Zathura would have been possible before.

Presentation by the Label: 57%

 

Summary:

John Debney created a very good space adventure score for Zathura which clearly beats comparable scores from the year like David Newman's score for Serenity because Debney's work is going back to the roots of powerful adventure scoring and has all the necessary ingredients to be successful with that: A heroic main theme, big fanfares, choir, lots of action and moments of magic. This score is a winner and can easily be considered as the best adventure score of the year. Unfortunately, Zathura is already punished with a weak box office performance and the endless talk about Howard Shore's rejection on King Kong or Patrick Doyle's new Potter-score will most likely push Debney's score back into the shadow of obscurity.

 

Tracklisting:

01. Main Titles (2:23)
02. Finding The Game (1:30)
03. Meteor Shower (1:24)
04. Aftermath (2:59)
05. Robot Grows / Chase / Standoff (4:00)
06. Too Close To The Sun (2:21)
07. Zorgonsí Appearance (1:09)
08. Theyíre Not Friendly (2:25)
09. Couch Decoy (2:17)
10. Astronautís Story (1:45)
11. Zorgonsí Return (2:47)
12. The Dumbwaiter (1:47)
13. Stealing The Game (6:03)
14. Robotís Revenge (1:48)
15. Shooting Star Card (2:27)
16. Brother To Brother (2:16)
17. Danny Wins The Game (1:34)
18. Zathura Is A Blackhole (1:20)
19. Back Home (1:09)
20. Home Again (:53)

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