Director Robert Rodriguez has become famed for handling what appears to be most of the production tasks on his movies - he's the director, writer, producer, editor, composer, cinematographer and more. He's also bounced between adult films (the marvelous "Sin City") and kids fare (the "Spy Kids" series). Despite not being in the target audience for the first two "Spy Kids" features, I am certainly fond of them. While they don't achieve the same level of success, they were the first films to at least attempt to 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.
The third film then arrived, and things went completely downhill. "Spy Kids 3-D" lacked the charm of the prior two features, and concentrated on FX over story. The video game concept of the third film and 3-D imagery made it seem less like a feature film and more like a mediocre theme park ride. When it was announced that the director was coming up with another 3-D film - "Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl" - my hopes for a return to the kind of adventure and fun of the first two "Spy Kids" movies were not exactly high.
Thankfully, while definitely not a return to the heights of the first two "Spy Kids", "Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl" isn't as much of a miss as the third "Spy Kids" feature was. The film focuses on Max (Cayden Boyd), a 10-year-old who has an easier time focusing on his dreams than his problems (such as bullys) in the present. His dreams include two characters - Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley). Although he is told by everyone including his teacher (George Lopez) and parents (David Arquette and Kristen Davis) to forget about his dreams, one day Max finds himself confronted by Sharkboy and Lavagirl, who need him to help them save their world - Planet Drool, in fact - from the evil Mr. Electric (Lopez, as well.)
The film, which is based upon an idea by the director's son Racer, starts really throwing the 3-D effects at the audiences once the trio goes to battle Mr. Electric on the planet Drool. The picture is similar in a lot of ways to "Spy Kids 3-D" (rather basic-looking visual effects, a lot of throwing stuff at the screen for 3-D effect), but at least the picture isn't nearly as in-your-face and tries to put a somewhat more coherent story together. The acting is passable, including an oddly subdued David Arquette. Despite the fact that the effects aren't exactly terrific, the world of the film is at least a little more imaginative than the third installment of "Spy Kids", like a graveyard of forgotten dreams, where the trio find a helpful robot.
Again, the picture is presented in 3-D, and you have to watch the movie with those old-school style glasses. They're dark and quite blue/red, to the point where I was seeing flickering blue/red after taking the glasses off. Despite the effect on the picture, it was easier to watch without the glasses. The "Glasses On/Glasses Off" signs in the movie also stop the film a bit. 4-pairs of glasses come in the DVD case.
Overall, this is pretty corny stuff, but there's admittedly some mild imagination and slight charms to aspects of the picture.
VIDEO: "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" is available in both 3-D and 2-D versions on this disc from Miramax. Sharpness and detail seemed fine on the 2-D version, although definition on the 3-D version seems a bit effected by the 3-D process.
The non 3-D footage looked good, although there were a few moments where some instances (especially a few dark scenes) showed some brief, but noticable pixelation. I'm guessing this is a direct-from-digital transfer, so there were no instances of print flaws. Colors looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The presentation is rather gimmicky, but delivers a rather entertaining amount of audio activity. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and crisply recorded effects.
EXTRAS: Robert Rodriguez provides an audio commentary for the feature. As with the rest of his tracks, the director/etc. provides an informative and fun track, chatting here about how he worked with his son to develop the idea for the feature, production, working with digital effects and casting. We also get a "making of" documentary with the director narrating footage of him and his sons working on the movie.
Final Thoughts: Rodriguez needs to forget about 3-D and put effects to work creating worlds like the one seen in "Sin City". "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" has its moments, but the basic effects and rather subpar dialogue makes it seem pretty cheesy throughout much of the film. Miramax's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality, along with a few decent supplements. Maybe worth a rental for families.