There are many reasons Robert Rodriguez has earned my envy. Besides his obvious talents as director, writer, editor, and composer, there's the fact that the success of his original Spy Kids movie has allowed him to not only make a Harryhausen movie (Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams), but to remake Tron. In 3-D, no less.
After the events of Spy Kids 2, Juni (Daryl Sabara) has left the OSS, but finds his agent status reactivated when his sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) goes missing while investigating a mysterious virtual reality game. Well, not missing - her body lies comatose while her mind is trapped somewhere in cyberspace, a fate that awaits every child on Earth when the highly anticipated computer game goes online in just 12 hours. So Juni must enter the game and play his way to the heretofore inaccessible Level 5. Along for the ride is Grandpa (Ricardo Montalban), who suspects that this is the work of his old spy nemesis, The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone!!!).
The movie doesn't really hang together as a coherent story as much as a collection of really cool setpieces - which, to be realistic, is the case with most video games, anyway. Nary a chance is missed to hurl something at the camera, and if the ending seems overly mawkish, it is, at least, refreshing to find a story that not only trumpets family is the most important thing on Earth, but also realizes your friends are family, too. Not a bad lesson to hit over and over again.
Yeah, your kids are probably going to like it more than you... but you're not going to regret watching it with them.
This movie is not introduced as "A Robert Rodriguez Film", but "A Robert Rodriguez Digital File", so the transfer is going to be flawless. The question you are likely asking, though, is how good is the 3-D? After all, Warner Home Video released House of Wax flat because they couldn't adequately recreate the 3-D experience on a home system.
And the answer is... they did as well as they could.
The disc defaults to "3-D Setup", which first informs you that you really should be watching the movie on a computer monitor (a recommendation at odds with the four pairs of 3-D glasses enclosed - but it does make a difference). It then lists four player-to-TV connections in order of preference, if you must watch it on your ratty old NTSC TV screen.
The effect on a typical consumer TV isn't bad. There are some convergence problems and ghosting - both addressed in Rodriguez' audio commentary - but by and large, the 3-D works (spectacularly well, in some instances). The major problem is that 3-D movies have to be projected very brightly in order to work, and the relative darkness of your home setup will likely insure a blinding headache by the time the movie's done. At least you can always resort to Disc 2, which houses a flat version and all the extras.
A bit of caution in the packaging: this is a clamshell case in a cardboard slip cover, and the additional bulk of four 3-D glasses render that clamshell very snug in the cover.
And I think this is the longest Presentation section we've ever done.
As mentioned, most of the extras are on Disc 2, along with the flat version of the movie. Don't get your hopes up for a 3-D making-of (Not that you would if your head hurts as much as mine did).
The by-now traditional "Ten Minute Film School" should be subtitled "Fun With Green Screens", as Rodriguez demonstrates how he made such an FX-heavy movie on the cheap - not to mention when all the actors' schedules would not cooperate. It then veers into "How To Make Cool Home Movies". Two phrases: Sound Effects, and Consumer Animation Programs.
"Alexa Vega In Concert" features the starlet singing three songs at the movie's world premiere in Austin, Texas. Considering she's only 16 at this point, I'm a little uncomfortable watching her pull off moves copied from Shakira.
The inevitable "Making Of" featurette is very good. Rodriguez is a director who prefers working with small budgets, because they force him to be creative, and watching his cost-cutting solutions to various problems is always a kick. This leads nicely into "The Effects of the Game", which is a fascinatingly dizzying multi-level view of the elements that go into various shots.
"Making Trax With Alexa Varga" is blooper footage of Varga laying down the vocal tracks for the end songs of the last couple of Spy Kids movies - color it dispensible; "Surfing and Stunts" allows you to use your multi-angle function to watch the lava-surfing scene through storyboards, animatics, raw footage and finished scene; and "Big Dink, Little Dink" details Bill Paxton's arrival to shoot his cameo as Dinky Winks, accompanied by his son - who was immediately cast as Dinky WInks, Jr.
The "Set Top Game" is a reproduction of the racing segment of the movie, where you use the arrow keys on your remote to pilot a racer. That's the theory, anyway, as I always encountered flaming death at the starting line. This one is replicated on Disc 1 as a 3-D diversion. Hope you have better luck with your remote than I did.
The audio commentary by Rodriguez is very informative, though I eventually found myself saying along with him, "I'll talk about that later." To his credit, he actually does seem to get around to all that promised palaver. Rodriguez is quite the fan of digital filmmaking (the name George Lucas crops up more than once) and spends a fair amount of time explaining why 3-D doesn't really work on a home system, and why you're eventually going to have to buy all your DVDs all over again when high-def becomes the norm. Thanks, Rob. I needed something else to look forward to.
Last and certainly least, "Sneak Peeks" is previews and text pages for all things Spy Kids (trailers for the first three movies, and ads for an online store, video games, soundtracks...) and trailers for Brother Bear, The Haunted Mansion, and Ella Enchanted, which appears to my blearied, strained eyes to be little more than a live-action Shrek.
Dr. Freex, 3/15/2004