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ZATHURA – John Debney

November 11, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

zathuraOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Celebrated children’s author Chris Van Allsburg must have a thing about board games. Having already unleashed Jumanji on the world back in 1995, and after the festive diversions of The Polar Express last year, he now returns to his genre of choice with Zathura, another juvenile adventure about a deadly game which proves all too real for its players. Directed by Jon Favreau and starring Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutchinson and Tim Robbins, Zathura tells the story of two brothers who discover a space-adventure board game in the basement of their house. However, once they start playing the game, the boys suddenly find themselves in mortal peril: their house has hurtled through space and is now in orbit around Saturn; they find themselves bombarded with meteors; and, worst of all, they are being threatened by a race of nasty lizard-like aliens called Zorgons. Their only way home is to finish the game – providing they stay alive long enough to do so…

James Horner wrote a frantic, rather unfocused action score for the jungle-based antics of Jumanji a decade ago. In contrast, Debney’s score for Zathura is a triumphant and nostalgic return to the classic children’s sci-fi scores of the 1980s, effortlessly recapturing the spirit and energy that fans of scores such as Craig Safan’s The Last Starfighter and James Horner’s Star Trek efforts hold so dear. Fully orchestral, with a vibrant central theme and plenty of action and fanfare, Zathura sets its stall out early in the opening “Main Titles”, which despite some rather clunky editing and choppy changes in direction, still impresses with its vibrant choral passages and delicious sense of adventure. Every now and again, Debney’s choice of instrumentation intentionally references other classic sci-fi scores – for example, the tubas in “Robot Grows/Chase/Standoff” recall the Jawa music from Star Wars, while the brass/chorus combo in “Too Close To The Sun” is obviously modelled on Independence Day – and can be seen as deferential nods of the head, grounding the score in the conventions of the genre, rather than slavishly following temp-track.

The action set-pieces, notably “Meteor Shower”, the aforementioned “Robot Grows/Chase/Standoff”, and the impressive “Stealing the Game” are deftly handled, and flow nicely, replete as they are with plenty of brass fanfares, percussion hits, and up-beat tempos. The more magical and spectacular aspects of the score, in cues such as “Finding the Game”, “Aftermath”, and especially the glorious pairing of “Shooting Star Card” and “Brother to Brother”, shimmer beautifully with the orchestra being accompanied by chimes and choirs – just the music one would expect to hear in your own head were you to open your front door and be confronted by the stunning sight a great gas giant and its planetary rings.

The sinister Zorgons have a mock-serious, but actually rather comical low-brass march accentuated by rattly ‘breathing’ noises as their recurring motif, which can be heard in cues such as “Zorgons’ Appearance”, “They’re Not Friendly”, and especially “Zorgons’ Return”, musically referencing the nefarious lizard men whenever appear to do something nasty to the pre-teen heroes. One of the few lighter cues is the gentle “Astronauts Story”, which is built around a light, yet rather mysterious glockenspiel melody.

In summary, anyone who enjoyed the freewheeling ebullience of earlier Debney action scores such as Cutthroat Island, or any of the aforementioned 80s classics, are likely to thoroughly enjoy every moment of Zathura. It’s undemanding, entertaining album of film music with no pretensions of being anything else than a crowd-pleasing ride. It’s certainly one of the better sci-fi efforts of the year. If all board game scores turn out like this, on this evidence, I look forward to the scores for Monopoly: The Movie, Trivial Pursuit: The Movie, and The Lexicographical Adventures of Scrabble with bated breath.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles (2:23)
  • Finding the Game (1:30)
  • Meteor Shower (1:24)
  • Aftermath (2:59)
  • Robot Grows/Chase/Standoff (4:00)
  • Too Close to the Sun (2:21)
  • Zorgons’ Appearance (1:09)
  • They’re Not Friendly (2:25)
  • Couch Decoy (2:17)
  • Astronaut’s Story (1:45)
  • Zorgons’ Return (2:47)
  • The Dumbwaiter (1:47)
  • Stealing the Game (6:03)
  • Robot’s Revenge (1:48)
  • Shooting Star Card (2:27)
  • Brother to Brother (2:16)
  • Danny Wins the Game (1:34)
  • Zathura is a Black Hole (1:20)
  • Back Home (1:09)
  • Home Again (0:53)

Running Time: 44 minutes 29 seconds

Varèse Sarabande 302-066-705-2 (2005)

Music composed and conducted by John Debney. Orchestrations by Brad Dechter, Mike Watts, Frank Bennett, Don Nemitz, Andrew Kinney, Bill Boston, Bruce Babcock and Kevin Kaska. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez. Mastered by Patricia Fourstar-Sullivan. Album produced by John Debney.

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