The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
Spy Kids director branches out with new kid's movie
Friday, June 10, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
comes from a very specific place and works mightily to return to that
place, with you in tow. You see, the creative force behind this movie
is a 7-year-old boy. A 7-year-old boy with a story idea isn't generally
going to get you very far in Hollywood, but when your father happens to
be filmmaker Robert Rodriquez (the Spy Kids franchise and, most
recently, Sin City) and he has a request for another kids' movie,
something might just get done.
Racer Rodriguez didn't actually write the screenplay, but Robert Rodriguez
used stories told by his son to come up with this tale of a boy who learns
that everything imagined can become real if the belief is strong enough.
With his wife, Elizabeth Avellan, producing and his other children in
bit parts, Shark Boy and Lava Girl is a true family affair.
The complaint with almost every Rodriguez film is that he is a master
of the visual, to the detriment of the narrative flow. By placing most
of this movie in the imagination of a 10-year-old boy, Rodriguez nimbly
sidesteps the issue. As with 10-year-olds, this is a story where situations
that focus on what is cool takes precedence over anything so prosaic as
consistency or a solid story arc.
Max (Cayden Boyd) is the 10-year-old boy who spends much of his time
dreaming and keeping a meticulous dream journal. Concerned that he isn't
spending enough time on the real world, both his parents (David Arquette,
Kristin Davis) and his schoolteacher (George Lopez) tell him he has to
give up on the dreams, that they're not real.
Unfortunately, it turns out that they are real, at least to a
degree, and shortly the main two characters from his dreams interrupt
his class and need his help to save their world. The first is Shark Boy
(Taylor Lautner) who was separated from his family as very young boy and
then raised by sharks. Somehow, part of the growth included developing
gills and other shark traits. Someday, he hopes, he'll become king of
The origins of Lava Girl (Taylor Dooley), on the other hand, are shrouded
in mystery, even to her. Unsure of where she comes from, all she knows
is that she has the power of fire. She is also concerned that she might
be evil since she tends to destroy the things around her.
© Dimension Films.
It seems that many of Max's dreams actually do exist on Planet Drool,
nearby in our solar system, but that since he was told to stop dreaming,
Mr. Electric (also George Lopez, disembodied) has been shutting down the
world, enveloping it in darkness. Shark Boy and Lava Girl don't know how,
but somehow Max has to fix everything.
The movie really does jump from scene to scene without much connective
tissue; it works though, capturing a juvenile sense of wonder even if
some things don't make much sense. The acting from the children isn't
going to win any awards, but none of them embarrass themselves, either.
Taylor Dooley has an earnest cuteness that could get her moving down a
similar career path as Hillary Duff or Lindsay Lohan.
Lautner's Shark Boy gets to show off some moves in one of the better
choreographed martial arts fights I've seen in a while. You might expect
that, as with almost everything else in the movie, it is CGI, but Lautner
is a three-time junior world martial arts champion and did his own fighting
(the opponents, giant electrical plugs, are not real however).
If I could stop here, I'd say that The Adventures of Shark Boy and
Lava Girl is a fine family film, particularly if your children are
in the 8 to 12 range. It touches on themes that are universal to us all,
but particularly relevant among children that age. Combined in Shark Boy
and Lava Girl are raw self assurance and clumsy self-doubt that exist
simultaneously in most children.
That's not the title of the movie, however, and so I can't stop the review
here. The title is The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in
3-D. Apparently the third Spy Kids movie, which was also
in 3-D, was sufficiently successful that Miramax's Weinstein brothers
specifically requested that Rodriguez do another one. Rodriguez reuses
a Spy Kids 3-D gimmick. The entire movie is not three dimensional
but rather just the scenes that take place in the imagination, creating
the need to convey to the audience when they are supposed to put on or
remove their glasses. It is an amusing element (and only needs to be done
a couple times through the movie), but there just isn't enough use of
3-D to warrant the extra work. Mostly, the offerings are just the standard
throw things at the audience shock tactics, which too frequently
Visually, the method used to create the 3-D just isn't up to the task.
With the glasses on, the 3-D scenes are still very red and too blurry.
The glasses provided (they looked official, but it is possible the ones
provided at my press screening are not the ones that will be used in wide
release) are one-size-fits-all and too small for my head, making them
extremely uncomfortable. I actually found it a better experience to remove
the glasses and watch the 3-D scenes as blurry 2-D. Trial and error achieved
the best visual experience when holding the glasses in front of my eyes
(so that the thin cardboard wasn't cutting into my nose) and then closing
one eye. This produced an in-focus two-dimensional image, even if it was
tinted red or blue depending on the closed eye.
Frankly, that is too much work and it doesn't need to be so bad. Earlier
this year I screened James Cameron's Aliens of the Deep, an IMAX
film in 3D. The plastic glasses were comfortable and the resulting image
crystal sharp. Since the 3-D was not used for shock tactics but rather
to simply add depth to the image, it was very pleasant. Unfortunately
economies (the cost of sending out millions of quality glasses) and audience
(kids who like the shock tactics) forced Rodriguez away from that.
The poor visual quality of much of the movie is enough for me to warn
most people away from it. That's too bad, because in two dimensions it
is a good family movie on a weekend in which the competition (Mr. and
Mrs. Smith) uses violence as a metaphor for sex and marriage.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D is a Dimension Films release
Wide theatrical release: Friday, June 11
Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Screenplay by Robert Rodriguez and Racer Rodriguez.
Starring: Cayden Boyd, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Dooley, George Lopez.
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor.
Running time: 93 minutes
Alex's Rating: 5 out of 10 (7 out of 10 if they hadn't done the 3-D)
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
Click here to contact Alex.