In less than three consecutive months, the multi-tooled filmmaker Robert Rodriguez gave us one of 2005's very best films (Sin City) and of the 2005's very worst films (The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D). Using his 7-year-old son's very active imagination as the springboard to a really lame film, Mr. Rodriguez wrote, produced, directed, shot, edited, scored, and voiced some characters in this misshapen mass of CGI detritus. (Oh, and he also acted as the visual effects supervisor and the sound mixer.) It's as if he had a whole lot of visual junk left over from the surprisingly tiresome Spy Kids 3-D and just decided to stretch 'em out into one more kiddie flick.
Our main character is a bookish little dreamer named Max, the imaginative creator of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. His classmates initially dismiss Max as a goofball, but those tunes change once the pre-teen superheroes fly into their classroom and whisk Max away on a wild adventure that strains the eyes as it corrodes the brain.
Ah yes, the 3-D gimmick; truly a shining beacon of narrative genius, isn't it? Watching the flick through the red & cyan-lensed glasses gave me a rather throbbing little headache, so I went back and re-started the 2-D version. About a half hour later, I realized that SB & LG was still providing me with a serious mini-migraine. But if you've ever wanted to see what a 90-minute cereal* commercial would look like, here's your chance. (*One of those really sugar-heavy cereals.)
The main problem with the flick, aside from its atrocious acting performances, its garish and inescapable CGI landscapes, and its horrifically simplistic life lessons about imagination and dreams and blah-blah-blah... No, the biggest problem with The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D is that it's simply not much of a movie. Without any noteworthy semblance of character development or narrative structure, you're left watching a 88-minute video-game demo.
You'll hop from ice caverns to cookie rafts to bubble worlds with no real rhyme or reason, the frankly pointless expositional dialogue forever flopping out of the three young actors' mouths. Each time we arrive at a new location, we're treated to words like "OK, over there is the giant marshmallow mush-monster of moon-town. In order to get past him and make it into the Bizzy Blender Defender we must climb over the teflon bridge of indifference, catapult through the maple syrup spider-web of Ritalin, and make our way down the clippy, cloppy clifftops of Boogerberg Terrace. Go, Sharkboy, do it!"
Then the three insufferable little tykes do precisely what they just said they would do, and now it's time for Boogerberg Terrace. And to escape the Terrace we must limbo under the speckled stick of Stooltown and then...!
And on and on and on.
Y'know, I really do respect Robert Rodriguez for loving his son enough to build an entire movie for the kid, but that sweetness alone does not instantaneously result in something fit for mass consumption. Just as easily (and with a lot less expense), the proud papa could have made Racer his own movie, burned it onto a DVD, and given it to the kid for his birthday. Because, frankly, this is one of the most outrageously obnoxious and self-indulgent "kid's flicks" I've seen in quite some time, and no amount of good intentions are going to make The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D any less than a huge, shrieking eyesore of a vanity project.
Video: The movie comes in your choice of 2-D or 3-D, only one of which is liable to give you a headache and/or a nosebleed. The 2-D transfer is a very crisp and colorful Anamorphic Widescreen affair, even if the overall feeling you get from the flick is that of falling into a giant vat of sprinkle-infested Cool Whip. If you choose to go the 3-D route, be prepared to re-calibrate your video settings just a little, and be sure to wear one of the four pairs of glasses that are included in the package. Still, it's a whole lot of effort for very little positive result. 3-D is a gimmick, Rob, and you're a better filmmaker than one who needs to rely on visual gimmickry. No amount of bells & whistles can salvage a screenplay this half-baked.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, which is clear enough to convince you that there's very little in The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D that's worth listening to. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
Extras: There's a feature-length audio commentary with the seemingly inexhaustible Robert Rodriguez, with a few guest appearances from his son Racer. As usual, Mr. Rodriguez delivers a chat-track full of production tidbits and interesting observations, but after a while it feels like you're listening to a guy narrate his own home movies. Although it was obviously a labor of love, The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D feels like it was created exclusively for the director's kids -- and nobody else. There's also an 8-minute featurette entitled Creating "Shark Boy and Lava Girl" with Racer Max that features the Rodriguez family "brain-storming" story concepts, swimming in the pool, and basically have a good ol' time. Dare I say this piece is about 15 times more entertaining than the movie itself, despite that fact that it's not even in 3-D!
I suppose it would be kind of pointless to dismiss The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D as "infantile" or "childish," considering that the whole flick basically sprung from the imagination of a kid lucky enough to have an experimental filmmaker for a daddy, but this is an absolute train-wreck of an experience for anyone over the age of 10. I almost feel bad for bashing the movie so effusively, because I really do think that Robert Rodriguez is a fresh and unique sort of filmmaker ... but he should be smart enough by now to know that a few kooky pieces of construction paper do not a movie make.
And with all due respect, please spare me the "Oh, c'mon! It's for kids!" argument, because "kids" will watch pretty much anything that looks shiny and sounds goofy; it's our job to help our children weed out the quality stuff from the clattering junkpiles like The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D.
But obviously, if you're a Rodriguez fan (as you should be), you'll probably have to give this one a rental to decide for your very own, and I always admire that attitude. Just be sure to pop a couple aspirins before the lights go down.