Lionsgate // 2005 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 8th, 2011
Smaller heroes. Just as super.
"Everything that is or was began with a dream."
Max (Cayden Boyd, X-Men: The Last Stand) is an ordinary kid with an extraordinary life. When he tells his class about his super-powered friends Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner, Twilight) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley, House, M.D.), they all laugh. However, Max's claims are legit: Sharkboy and Lavagirl are real, and they need Max to join them on a trip to the mysterious planet Drool and help them defeat the villainous Mr. Electric (George Lopez, The Spy Next Door) and the nasty Minus (Jacob Davich, Mr. Woodcock). Will Max be able to save his friends' fantastical planet?
Many (including myself) have complained that Robert Rodriguez's family films are considerably worse than his features for grown-ups. However, as time has passed, I've begun to realize that isn't true. Truthfully, the quality of most of his films is largely defined by what demographic you happen to be a part of. For better or worse, Rodriguez makes films that essentially play like checklists of items intended to stimulate the pleasure zones of his intended audiences. A film like Planet Terror aims for those beloved 18-to-35-year-old fanboys, with its inclusion of zombies, Michael Biehn, melting body parts, pole dancing, Rose McGowan with a machine gun leg, explosions and Quentin Tarantino. Meanwhile, a film like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl goes for a much younger audience, with its bright colors, name-calling, a land made of sugary foods, idiotic parents, cheesy rock songs performed by Taylor Lautner, 3D, booger jokes, fart jokes and "people getting hit in the balls" jokes. Each is superficial fun for its intended audience, and each will probably seem pretty grating and thin to those outside that intended audience.
As such, I find The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl pretty tedious, but that doesn't mean the youngsters will. Make no mistake, this is a kid's movie rather than a family movie. It's the sort of thing that will keep your seven-your-old riveted but that you'll find kind of insufferable. It's a loud, in-your-face bit of pandering. It might have been tolerable if it were a bit more sincere, but it's a movie that feels as if it's talking down to the audience ("How do you like this movie, boys and girls? Do you like the boy who's half-shark and the girl who's half-volcano? Do you like the bad guy made of electricity? Do you like the river made of ICE CREAM?"). It's the sort of tone likely to make kids of a certain age feel like it's, "a movie for kids," if you know what I mean.
I actually saw The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in theaters, and it remains the worst 3D theatrical experience I've had to date. The glasses were the crappy red-and-blue variety which both gave me a headache and dimmed the colorful visuals to an exasperating degree. At that time, I was frustrated because the 3D was preventing me from being able to fully appreciate the modestly interesting visuals Rodriguez was delivering. Watching the film in 2D on Blu-ray, I found myself frustrated by how obnoxiously "made specifically for 3D" the film is. There's constantly some item poking itself at the camera in distracting fashion; it just looks flat-out silly in two dimensions. Additionally, this hi-def release accentuates just how limited and cheesy the CGI effects are. I'm not terribly pleased about the fact that I've now seen this film twice, but I'm even less pleased about the fact that it looked awful in entirely different ways each time.
The performances adopt the same overplayed, condescending tone Rodriguez adopts, with Kristen Davis (Sex and the City) and David Arquette (Scream) faring the worst as Max's parents. George Lopez mugs for the camera to varying degrees in no less than four different roles, but that's unfortunately par for the course in his case. The child actors struggle to deliver persuasive work as well, with Boyd faring the best and the hammy Davich faring the worst (Lautner is simply bland in his breakout role).
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (Blu-ray) delivers a sharp, crisp 1080p/1.85:1 transfer that offers excellent detail, eye-popping color and considerable depth. Sure, the movie is an eyesore at times and the excellent transfer only accentuates the film's poor CGI, but that shouldn't count against the fine work Lionsgate has done with this release. There are a few scenes in which the image looks a little soft, but this seems to be part of an intentional effort to make the green screen work look less awkward. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is sturdy, offering an aggressive, engaging mix which proves room-rattlingly immersive at times. The most intriguing element is the wildly inconsistent score, which runs the gamut from nuanced to wretched at assorted points (this probably has to do with the fact that it's a joint collaboration between Rodriguez, John Debney and Graeme Revell -- a team that worked together far more effectively on Sin City). Supplements are borrowed from the DVD: a commentary with Robert Rodriguez and the "Creating Sharkboy and Lavagirl with Racer Max" featurette.
Robert Rodriguez makes these movies for his kids. Hard to fault the guy for trying to be a good dad.
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is another tedious children's flick from an increasingly frustrating director who has begun to define "unrealized potential." Sure, it'll hold the attention of young children, but that's honestly the most backhanded compliment one can offer a piece of family-friendly entertainment. There are so many better options out there. The Blu-ray is fine.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG