|The Island Of Lost Dreams
cast: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, and Steve Buscemi
director: Robert Rodriguez
99 minutes (U) 2002 widescreen ratio 16:9
Director Robert Rodriguez will always get my attention – I find some measure of respect for a guy that lets a research hospital test drugs on him so that he can fund his first movie. I don’t believe, however, that with his latest film, Rodriguez had any interest in talking to me.
A few years have past since Spy Kids and Juni and Carmen Cortezs’ inception into the world of espionage. Now there’s a whole agency of spy kids, but Juni and Carmen (Sabara and Vega) are not top dogs. Instead, that honour goes to Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O’Leary and Emily Osment), the kids of new chief-spy Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge – voice of TV’s Beavis And Butthead). When the world-endangering Transmooker device is stolen, naturally the Giggles get the job of recovering it, but Carmen hacks the mainframe and fixes for her and her brother to go on the mission instead. Learning of their children’s deception, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Banderas and Gugino) set about bringing their kids home. Arriving at the ‘Island of Lost Dreams’, all the gadgets that the spy kids depend on stop working. So, it’s with just their wits and a rubber band that Juni and Carmen find the crackpot scientist Romero (Buscemi), learn who the criminal mastermind behind the whole affair is, and recover the Transmooker before the bad guy can use it to destroy the world.
This is a kid’s wonderland, full of pace, bright primary colours and daft characters. The story is pure Saturday morning TV fluff, but provides Rodriguez (who wrote, directed, edited, designed and scored the film) with a good excuse to unleash his powerful, and sometimes-bizarre imagination. There’s a mega-computerised tree-house, cute robot friends you can keep in your pocket, a submarine computer that delivers hamburgers and picks your nose for you, and then an island full of fantastical creatures – Rodriguez must have lived every one of his childhood fantasies when making this film. For an adult, however, there’s little to sustain your interest. None of the characters have any complexity about them, and apart from Vega and Sabara, the child actors’ performances are excruciatingly precocious. The adult actors, moreover, are sorely underused; Banderas and Gugino are hardly present, and Ricardo Montalban (as Grandfather Cortez) is only given the space to hint at his greatness. In an allusion to classic adventure film The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, Juni and Carmen fight skeleton warriors when they reach the island. Compared to the low-tech special effects of Sinbad, the flashy Spy Kids 2 pales in comparison. Generally, the computer graphics just aren’t good enough, and I found myself yearning for the crude but somehow more effective days of stop-motion animation.
Whilst the film is for kids, there is still reason for an adult (with an interest in the movie making process) to rent or buy this DVD – the extras. In his director’s commentary and featurette 10 Minute Film School, Rodriguez takes you into the filmmaking process like no other director. He is the guy who wears the guerrilla (filmmaker) suit best, and his enthusiasm for the medium is infectious. Although the CG is pretty poor, I defy anyone to correctly guess the minuscule budget on which he shot this film – Rodriguez lets you in on the secrets of making an action film, with over 1,000 special effects shots, for half of the average bill. In bringing in a film for so little, the studio gives this man complete creative freedom; I hope that next time, he stumbles closer to my direction.
Other DVD extras: three more featurettes, teaser trailer, stills and art gallery, music video ‘Isle Of Dreams’, behind-the-scenes montage, interactive game Transmooker Trouble.