Year 2005: The Adventures of Shark-Boy and Lava-Girl in 3D D-

A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov

Maybe my expectations for so-called ‘family’ films are too high. Or maybe the reason The Adventures of Shark-Boy and Lava-Girl in 3D tested my bad filmmaking tolerance and pushed me a few steps closer to lunacy is that director Robert Rodriguez completely squanders an opportunity to make a deep (if weird), even soulful kids’ movie by infusing it with needless over-the-top special effects at every turn. Rodriguez, known as a rebel director in Hollywood who likes to ride on his reputation garnered from past successes like Desperado and Spy Kids, claims that each one of his movies changes the preconceived notions of cinema as an art form by introducing new ideas and technologies into the artistic fold. While that is undoubtedly true for his other 2005 effort Sin City, this film ditches the artistry so essential to cinema, instead emphasizing the ‘cool’ new 3D technology and green-screen effects. In short, the things that truly make us care for the characters – a coherent and emotional story, crisp dialogue, genuine acting and a positive message – are all ditched or cut back in favor of empty action, devoid of anything that should keep us from walking-out, hitting the ‘stop’ button, or turning the channel.

Rodriguez likes to sell this film by indulging that his then 10-year old son Racer Rodriguez actually came up with its premise, and (Robert) Rodriguez even gave him an official ‘Story By” credit. But after having seen the final product, this fact makes the experience of watching it an even sadder one, because the base story has the potential to be a thoughtful rumination on the influence our dreams have on the real world. The resulting screenplay co-written by Robert Rodriguez and his brother Marcel is anything but thoughtful. It loses sight of the real world and focuses solely on the dream portion wherein the young dreamer Max (Cayden Boyd) meets Shark-Boy (Taylor Lautner) and Lava-Girl (Taylor Dooley), two superheroes of the dream world who do battle against an evil mastermind Mr. Electric (George Lopez). There isn’t much plot beyond this, and talented supporting actors like David Arquette and Kristin Davis are squandered in bit parts that add little substance to the proceedings.

Unfortunately Rodriguez, who is traditionally the ring-leader of his sideshow projects choosing to score, edit and shoot his films in addition to direct, elects to go the George Lucas route of hoping that all the visual hoop-la makes up for the single-take line delivery of the main players. For it is without a doubt that Lautner and Dooley have little to no talent, and it is also without a doubt that Boyd has taken the ‘sleeping’ part of the role a little too literally. Instead of Rodriguez treating the film as a sort of acting school for these up-and-comers he decides to point and shoot while they do their line readings in an amateurish, over-the-top and, in Boyd’s case, overly reluctant fashion. Sometimes, though rarely, the written word can make up for bad delivery, but alas this isn’t the case here. Even a veteran actor like Lopez delivers his lines in a dumbfounded, can’t-believe-this-is-actually-a-real-movie-that-will-be-shown-to-real-people way that represents the closest the movie came to putting a smirk on my face. But mostly I just sank lower in my chair with each passing minute, embarrassed for all the actors involved.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Rodriguez’s brand of frugal visual effects also fail to impress on even a ‘serviceable’ level, which is inexcusable, considering how prevalent they are. The biggest disappointment is the production design of the dream world that Shark-Boy, Lava-Girl and all of their kooky companions (and enemies) call home, since it is mostly green screen-aided landscapes with few random set-dress ups and weird costumes. This and the poor 3D effects (which are way too few and far between to be worth mentioning) signal a lack of budgetary planning on (also producer) Rodriguez’s part. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be picking on the special effects if Rodriguez acted as if they weren’t the only thing that mattered to him and supposedly the success of his movie.
Around the time it came out, every promotional interview Rodriguez sat in included an assortment of the following words or phrases: ‘pioneering,’ ‘state-of-the-art,’ ‘never been done before’ and my personal favorite “standard-setting.” Please. One has to try a little harder than Rodriguez did to create a game-changer, as demonstrated in the same year by filmmakers like Peter Jackson (King Kong), Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) and *surprise* Robert Rodriguez with Sin City. For it is Sin City‘s existence that makes this film’s failure even more painful. It’s as if the two movies combined reveal a director being at the top of his game for one and totally slumming it for the other. I’ll let you decide which one is which.

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