The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D takes us on a wild imaginative ride through the eyes of a kid with his "imaginary friends". Robert Rodriguez again explores the possibilities of digital cinema doing a 360 from the adult-themed Sin City to this very kid oriented feature.
Max, played by Cayden Boyd, is a misfit kid who creates two imaginary friends, Sharkboy and Lavagirl played by Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley respectively, and a fantastical world to try to deal with reality. His parents, Kristin Davis and David Arquette are having marriage problems, he is constantly tormented by the head bully Linus (Jacob Davich), and his teacher, played by George Lopez is not very fond or patient with him. One day his imaginary friends come to life and take Max on an adventure to save their home, Planet Drool, from been overtaken by the bad guys.
Probably this film will be mostly compared to Rodriguez's other kid venture, the Spy Kids trilogy. But intone it's mostly only comparable to Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, which in itself had little to do with the original Spy Kids. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D is strictly targeted to kids, in fact only to very young audiences, there is little substance for adults or even teens. At it's core Spy Kids was a clever comedy spoof of spy films and any audience could connect with it, not only because of adult actors like Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo, but the solid performances of the kids, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara who were witty and cheeky. In contrast the adult actors in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D are almost an afterthought, only George Lopez has anything to do and mostly it's an over the top performance as various incarnation of the evil henchman. So the film rests on the performance of the 3 kids but unfortunately their performances are mostly wooden. Max has barely anything to say or do (except react to whatever trouble they're in) so there is a big emotional disconnect with most of the film. Sharkboy a Lavagirl are personifications of the extreme superheroes: extremely 2 dimensional. Even though their backgrounds are explored it's mostly to set up their almost static personas: the ever smiling Lavagirl and the always frowning Sharkboy, which at time I felt he needed a smack in the head.
In the end Max does indeed grow as he becomes more assertive and secure. For the most part you wouldn't know why since in essence the film basically turns into set pieces tied together sometimes with little reason. If it's anything worthwhile to watch is the set pieces themselves which are visually eye catching. Some are not very original, after all how many kids fantastical land consist of places made of chocolate and candies and of course the standard frozen environment. Towards the finale there is a revelation which has shades of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen although the pay off is too little too late.
VFX for this film are courtesy of Troublemaker Digital Studios under the supervision of Robert Rodriguez, CafeFX under the supervision of Everett Burrell, Hybride Technologies under the supervision of Richard Martin and Daniel Leduc, Hydraulx under the supervision of Greg and Colin Strause, ILM under the supervision of Samir Hoon, Intelligent Creatures under the supervision of Lon Molnar, The Orphanage under the supervision of Ryan Tudhope, Tippett Studio under the supervision of Eric Leven, R!ot and Amalgamated Pixels.
Most of the work is geared towards creating Planet Drool, where just like Sin City is mostly completely digital as the actors were filmed mostly in front of green screens. Because of the story and the focus on kids the environments tend towards the completely fantastical. Thus while one could argue that the environments look "fake" or cheesy, one could say that's exactly how they should look, being a complete kids fantasy. In that respect the work is very consistent. There are a few times where there is some contrast though, like a few instances kids interact with a few props. Also while still being fantastical some objects are done in a very realistic way, like many ice and snow environments, while the sea in Sharkboy's backstory looks somewhat amorphous and bloby (especially the interaction between the subjects and the waterline) given the recent advances in fluid dynamics. In the end the work has more of a cartoony, almost Saturday morning TV, feel to it. So it's more a matter of how much you enjoy the surreal aesthetics of the imagery.
Not all the film is in stereoscopic 3D (the one that uses red and blue glasses, although I've never had any headache issues with it). Another positive aspect of the stereoscopic 3D portion of the film is that it avoids much of the classic 3D gags like throwing stuff at the audience or pointing something say like a sword) right between your eyes, or the always cheesy getting close/far to the audience. It still contains some older staples associated with theme park rides, like POV "rollercoaster" type shots. The real weakness comes from choosing this 3D method, which severely compromises the color quality of the shots. This is rather unfortunate since Planet Drool is such a wildly looking world and the red and blue glasses detract from some of the visual richness of the environments in favor of the 3D trickery. Despite this weakness of the method the VFX works does hold up in 3D.
The Final Verdict
In the end The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is a rather harmless, sterile if positive kids film. The lack of much plot and an emotional connect means the film will probably appeal only to very young audiences. Despite the great visual flair there's only so much it can be watched before realizing how empty the experience is.