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Spy Kids Trilogy

Spy Kids

The original Spy Kids came as a surprise following years of violent, DIY movies about killers and monsters. The fact that Robert Rodriguez even had any interest in making a kid’s film was charm enough to be soft on the production, which looking back is actually much better than I’d given it credit for over the years. Rodriguez’s script, though not entirely unique, is overflowing with fun ideas, and though it ends in a predictable place, the journey isn’t entirely predictable. Rodriguez also manages to be funny on level with the intended audience, while still engaging the audience’s adult chaperones (I’m sure several parents suspected their kids’ favourite television shows were run by madmen bent on world domination). The visuals are occasionally indulgent to the point of nausea, and Rodriguez spends valuable screen time on cool looking stuff that has no bearing on the narrative, but there isn’t a penny of the modest budget that doesn’t make it on screen. The cast is particularly impressive as well, and everyone but Robert Patrick manages to find a perfect balance of cheese and melodrama (Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub stand out in particular). Even if the entire film sucked Rodriguez would’ve deserved special mention for giving little Alexa Vega a stage on which to truly shine. This films stands as a constant reminder of her lack of an interesting teen/adult career. It’s also worth noting that Spy Kids features biracial kiddy protagonists, and this is never discussed, serving as a lesson in multiculturalism without drawing unneeded attention to the subject (the other morals are pretty heavy handed), and that at the time of release, Spy Kids was a dozen times better than the latest two installments of the James Bond series.

This first Blu-ray does not look good at all. It’s certainly as bright and colourful as it should be, but details are lumpy, and edges are wrought with haloes, and dull. Wide shots are smears of barely differing elements, and close-ups are soft enough to make me question my glasses subscription. Just in case that wasn’t enough for you, there is also an excess of stuttering frame rates, which make it hard to believe this isn’t an interlaced transfer. Though compression artefacts are scarce (some of the hue blends are pocked with hue inconsistency), for the most part this looks like a successfully upconverted DVD. For the record, I actually caught the film on Cartoon Network in HD, and it looked sizably better. It also looks better on the special features. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack sounds fine, it’s plenty loud, and doesn’t display any noticeably signs of compression. Rodriguez keeps the channels busy with action, and the aggressive musical work of five different composers. Extras include ‘Growing Up Spy Kids’ (48:10, HD), a rather encompassing look behind the first three films, ‘Ten Minute Film School’ (8:10, HD), ‘Cooking School’ (6:00, HD), ‘Stunt Piece’ (6:50, HD), ‘Special Effects’ (7:00, SD), and trailers.

Spy Kids Trilogy

Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams

The second movie in this ‘initial trilogy’ is the only one I hadn’t seen before this review, and the experience was mixed. Rodriguez makes plenty of good and bad choices in the follow-up chapter. On the one hand he takes the ‘the same but more’ sequel formula to heart, which leads to some terribly listless sequences, and brings about the question of why, other than money, was this needed? On the other hand he refines the action and comedy, he finds a clever excuse to put the kids at the forefront (alcohol), and aims this particular story at Juni (Daryl Sabara) instead of Carmen, who was the major focus of the first film. This episode works best when not indulging in special effects heavy action, but when showcasing Rodriguez’s surprising knack for absurdist comedy. The state dinner sequence, with its awkward dances and simultaneous head movements is probably my favourite moment in the entire series, and it’s achieved with such simplicity. Juni and Carmen’s bickering is somehow quite enjoyable (it’s practically a movie rule that bickering children are more grating than Adam Sandler), as is just about any scene involving Antonio Banderas, who proves he should stop making Shrek sequels and get back in front of cameras. Unfortunately there’s an excess of special effects tomfoolery, and this is the point where the director’s obsession with achieving loads of digital tricks on a low budget. Yes, it’s absolutely impressive that Spy Kids 2 actually cost less than Spy Kids, but it’s not worth it at the cost of story (insert George Lucas comparisons here). At this point the excessive effects are still pretty charming though, so it’s hard to complain too hard.

Island of Lost Dreams was one of the first major theatrical releases to be filmed using high definition digital cameras, along with Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, 28 Days Later, Jason X, 9 Songs and Full Frontal, all in 2002. This apparently makes all the difference, because overall this is 1080p transfer is quite effective, occasionally toeing the line of perfection. To my eyes there are only minor compression effects among the otherwise sharp edges and vibrant colours (the deep reds of the evil minions show particular blocking). Sadly the special effects don’t stand up to the higher definition. Green screen edges are a little off, and digital characters that infiltrate largely real environments appear a little grainy. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is very aggressive. The opening title alone, which features a screaming rollercoaster that wraps all the way around the audience. From here the music never stops, and the directional elements, from the obvious, to subtler ambience are quite consistent. Volume levels are also consistent and important elements clear. Extras include a director’s commentary, another ‘Ten Minute Film School’ (10:00, SD), ‘A New Kind of Stunt Kid’ (6:40, SD), eight deleted scenes (7:50, SD), ‘School at Big Bend National Park’ (5:00, SD), ‘Essential Gear: The Gadgets of Spy Kids’ (3:20, SD), a six part behind the scenes montage (12:00, SD), ‘A Day in the Life of Spy Kids’ (21:40, SD), a music video and trailers.

Spy Kids Trilogy

Spy Kids 3: Game Over

This is where Rodriguez’s kid’s movies officially lost their appeal for me. Spy Kids 3: Game Over is still quite a bit better than the bulk of live action garbage churned out to please undiscerning kiddies, but it wears the themes and styles of the first two films threadbare, and generally overwhelms with its sheer quantity of candy-vomit imagery. I recognize and somewhat appreciate the irony of creating a mind-numbing, short attention span coddling film that is meant to decry the dangers of mind-numbing, short attention span coddling videogames, but there’s not much else here to keep me interested. Game Over barely has a plot, and is even more a simple series of wacky set pieces than the other two already set piece heavy/plot-light films in the series. It’s reasonably fun to watch the first time, and respect its Tron-thieving simplicity, but secondary viewings ache with a lack of narrative or character development. It’s difficult to describe exactly what makes Rodriguez’s action sequences so easy to dismiss. In theory my affection for The Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer should draw similar affection, but for whatever reason these video game adventures hold zero weight. I suppose the fact that Rodriguez was so wrapped up in exploring new technology at super low prices he forgot to care about rounding out his characters or giving them something interesting to say plays a part, as does Grandpa’s constant deus ex machina style assistance, and the main villain’s need for Juni to win the games in order to achieve his ultimate goal, which both rob the story of any real threat or suspense. Sylvester Stallone and Ricardo Montalban are pretty fantastic, but Alexa Vega doesn’t show up for almost two thirds of the film, and the last minute cameos from the original film are little reward after too much time among subpar kid actors.

Game Over was one of, if not the last major film to be released in anaglyph 3D, and it looked like crap. The red and blue glasses gooped up the acrylic colour palette, and fuzzed up the sharp digital HD details. This 1080p transfer is, thusly, a bit of a catch 22 – the colours are gorgeous and vibrant, and the edges are razor sharp, but Rodriguez focuses so much on the 3D advantage it’s consistently obvious that we’re missing something. Overall this is the best looking disc in the collection, though, featuring smooth transitions, deeper blacks, and a distinct lack of any noticeable compression artifacts. This DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack also shows up the other two discs, and is comparable to most blockbuster budget Blu-ray releases. The mix is especially punchy due to Rodriguez’s emphasis on 3D design, which ensures lots of stuff is flying over and around the audience’s head at all times. The score this time around was composed entirely by Rodriguez, and apparently mostly performed by him, which is a problem for overall fidelity, as keyboard orchestras never have the warmth of the real thing. Extras include another director’s commentary, another ‘Ten Minute Film School’ (9:50, SD), three premier concert songs featuring Alexa Vega (10:00, SD), ‘The Making of Spy Kids 3D: Game Over’ (21:10, SD), ‘The Effects of the Game’ (26:30, SD), ‘Making Trax with Alexa Vega’ (1:00, SD), ‘Surfing Stunts’ (1:10, SD), ‘Big Dink, Little Dink’ (1:40, SD) and trailers.