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Alex Stroup, editor

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 he sea.

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 involves sneezing.

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.


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