The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D (2005)

Robert Rodriguez's name is fast becoming synonymous with “style over substance”. Earlier this year, he brought every comic-book fan’s fantasies to life with the amazing Sin City, which, despite its brutal mix of violence and sexuality, wouldn’t have been nearly the movie it was if it’d been filmed conventionally. The digital effects transformed an otherwise rather horrible movie into a work of art. In The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, a really rather rubbish kiddie film achieves some similar measure of greatness because – it’s in 3-D! What’s not awesome about that?

Admittedly, the cinema staff did snigger a little at a group of twentysomethings getting excited over the gender-specific 3-D glasses – blue Sharkboy glasses with fins and shark-tooth detail for the boys, and pink swirly Lavagirl glasses for girls – and the cinema screen was entirely deserted with the exception of ourselves and a group of four unaccompanied kids sitting at the back, but I’m not one to be put off by silly things like that.

The actual 3-D effects are reserved for the scenes set on Planet Drool, with normality restored for the real world. The film returns to “normal” about 15 minutes before the end, which I assume is actually to let the audience’s eyes re-adjust before they have to leave the cinema and make fools – and lawsuits – of themselves falling down the escalators. It’s quite a nice touch, though; everything on Planet Drool is right in your face, and since that’s largely where all the weird stuff happens, it’s quite fun.

The plot itself is pretty flimsy. It’s basically a re-telling of The NeverEnding Story, where Sharkboy and Lavagirl fill the Atreyu role, the “Darkness” instead of the “Nothing” is destroying the fantasy world, and the Childlike Empress is replaced with an Ice Princess. The underlying message – or, it’d be underlying were it not shoved down your throat every five minutes – is that dreams are powerful, but only when used for the power of good. Selfish dreams are no good to anyone, yadda yadda yadda. Planet Drool is essentially a metaphor for Max’s real life, with his parents, teachers and school bullies recast as nightmarish villains. Eventually, though, he has to face reality – cue happy ending. Bizarrely, Max’s parents are played by David Arquette and Kristin Davis, who make an unlikely couple if ever there was one. It’s also surprising since they’re both reasonably big stars in their own right, making their involvement in such a bizarrely childish vanity project really strange. Rodriguez’s own three sons – Rebel, Racer and Rocket Rodriguez, and to think I actually quite liked Robert until I found that out – all have cameos in this movie, so I guess if their dreams involve making movies, they’ve got that sorted.

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D isn’t one of those children’s movies that has something there for the adults. There’s nothing grown up about it – aside from the fact that since it’s been approximately a decade since I last used 3-D glasses, and that was to watch a Take That performance on television for a Children In Need Appeal, I’m feeling positively geriatric about now – but why should there be? It’s clearly a movie made for kids, as the numerous burp and fart jokes attest. Occasionally, it seemed Rodriguez was running out of ideas for 3D effects, because there were far more occurrences of characters spitting out food in the direction of the camera than could ever be considered strictly necessary.

Overall, whilst it’s not dire, it’s not a film I’d recommend to everyone. Just the kind of person who fiddles with the soft drinks fountain to end up with a super-sized cup 90% full of sugar syrup and gets excited over the Pick ‘n’ Mix. You’ll only enjoy it if you’re willing to take off your movie elitist hat for a couple of hours and just marvel at the fact that there are 3-dimensional bubbles floating RIGHT IN YOUR FACE.

IMDB link

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