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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Spy Kids 3-D
Spy Kids 3-D
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // February 24, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 17, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


I am very fond of the first two "Spy Kids" movies. While they don't achieve the same level of success, they were the first films to try and capture a similar sense of adventure as such 80's classics as "The Goonies" and "Neverending Story" in a long while. In an era of largely bland, pre-packaged kids fare, the first two "Spy Kids" were live-action family fare that had wit and imagination.

There was really never a need for a third film in the series, and that's confirmed by the actual third film itself, a disappointing finale to an otherwise terrific trilogy of films. Juni (Daryl Sabara) has retired from the OSS kids spy agency, chosing to become a private investigator, investigating such issues as why a water park has run dry (it's Winter). Juni has no desire to return to being a secret agent, but he's pulled back in when he finds that his sister, Carmen (Alexa Vega) has been trapped inside of a new video game called, simply, "Game Over".

Juni then jumps into the virtual reality game, searching for his sister, while everyone else babbles about "level 5", and how it's unbeatable. Or something. It's all about as exciting as watching someone else play a video game. Few rules are introduced, and one bit involves Juni stealing from "Who Wants to be a Millionare?" and calling for a "lifeline" in the form of his grandfather (Ricardo Montalban), who gains the ability to walk, thanks to one of the game's "power ups".

All of the regular cast members that have appeared in director Robert Rodriguez's "Kids" films show up once again, appearing in cameos that are brief and too forced (Bill Paxton's brief moment did get a laugh, though). The only real newcomer is Sly Stallone, who is hilarious (and not in a good or intended way) as the evil Toymaker, as well as three other characters. Making matters worse is that Vega, who has always been the highlight of the series - in my opinion - is sidelined for the majority of the feature, only appearing in the last third.

Things like story are sidelined here for an excessive amount of CGI, as the actors are simply up against green screen for the majority of the feature. Also problematic is the fact that the film's idea of a video game seems dated. In an era of well-told video game stories ("Halo") and kids games that throw their characters into imaginative worlds ("Sly Cooper"), the disjointed worlds of the game in the film are not very well-realized or imaginative. I never really got into the whole concept, though, since we're really told nothing about the game or what the plot or point of it is - all of the rules seem to be made-up as the movie goes along, especially apparent in one moment involving lava surfing.

Worst of all was the decision to make this a 3-D picture. I've frequently discussed my dislike of 3-D fare before in reviews, and "Spy Kids 3D" is pretty much the definition of what I dislike about it - not only is it "old school" 3-D, with the cardboard glasses, the majority of the film is spent throwing various images towards the audience. The only inspired use of 3D that I've still ever seen is "Space Station", an IMAX feature that actually used the 3-D aspect to give the images a much greater sense of depth, not to throw images towards the viewer. Apparently, "Spy Kids 3D" was done with a camera system similar (or the same) as what James Cameron used for the IMAX "Ghosts of the Abyss".

Messages and themes, clearly a part of the prior two "Kids" films, are not nearly as well-integrated here, as messages of family and teamwork as presented in a heavy-handed manner - most noticable in the abrupt ending. Overall, this was a very dismaying wrap-up (Rodriguez actually does state in the commentary that this is the last, although I don't quite believe it) to what has otherwise been a very enjoyable ride. At 72 minutes, at least it's brief.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Spy Kids 3" is presented on this 2-DVD set in two different formats - a 3-D version (glasses come along w/it) and a 2-D version. The 3-D effects are decent, and younger viewers may find them more enjoyable (and less irritating) than I did. The straightforward 2-D presentation was, in my opinion, a nice touch and a much more pleasant way to view the picture, as it allows one to sit through the feature without any of the distortion required for the 3D effects or the effects themselves. Sharpness and detail were quite nice, as the picture remained crisp and clear throughout. While I thought a more imaginative world could have been created for the game, the regular edition did allow closer inspection of some of the moderately effective CGI details director Robert Rodriguez created.

The presentation doesn't suffer from any major concerns, although some slight edge enhancement occasionally is a bit of a distraction. Compression artifacts are not seen, however. The film's bright, vivid color palette appeared well-rendered, with strong saturation and no smearing or other flaws.

SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is quite good, if understandably as gimmicky as the rest of the feature. Surrounds come alive throughout the feature with all sorts of discrete sound effects that mirror the in-game, er, film action. Sound effects are crisp and clear, while tight, deep low bass is often present. Dialogue seemed well-recorded, as did the director's score.

EXTRAS: Writer/director/editor/cinematographer/production designer/composer/co-producer - and probably ten other things - Robert Rodriquez provides one of his usual outstanding commentaries for the picture. Despite my disapointment with aspects of the film (the director discusses how the game is supposed to start off appearing Atari-esque, then progresses further as the movie goes further - not really given a reason for that, it seems jarring), the director discusses the details of the production and technology in great detail (while not a 3D fan, I found it interesting that, the way the picture was filmed, it can be shown in any of the current theatrical 3-D formats - it was only shown in the old-fashioned format due to trying to get it into more screens).

Still, while I've found the director's discussions of filming in HD for this and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (and "Once" did look surprisingly good), he seems too caught up here in the technology, often chatting about how he designed scenes to optimize the 3-D, which seems to be the goal of the film, instead of a focus on story. Good news for fans of the original: the director starts off the commentary talking about how there will be a special edition of the first film later this year.

One of the director's famed "10 Minute Film School"s is the next feature offered, this one focusing on how the director was able to do visual effects work in his Austin, TX hometown in a way that was cost-effective. Opinions on the film aside, it's nice to see the director once again prove that films can be done today on budgets that aren't as outrageous. The director also throws in some tips about making more exciting home movies.

A 21-minute "making of" documentary gives viewers a brief history of "3-D Cinema" and goes through several aspects of the production, from the effects to stunts to casting to how Rodriguez works on the film in so many roles. A featurette and three clips show off actress Alexa Vega's singing. A smaller piece is devoted entirely to the effects - we get no discussion, but are shown all of the layers - element-by-element - that went into the creation of some of the film's visual effects.

Rounding out the DVD edition is a "multi-angle" (storyboards/greenscreen/final) of the surfing sequence, as well as "Sneak Peek" trailers and an interactive game. Some of the supplements are only included on the 2nd (2D edition) DVD.

Final Thoughts: The delightful wit, charm and adventure of the "Spy Kids" series has been replaced almost entirely here by a jumble of flashy visual effects. It's about as exciting as watching someone else playing a video game. The film's DVD edition provides very good audio/video quality and some very informative supplements, but I'd recommend this one only for fans of the film. Others should try a rental first.

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