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Featured Blu-ray review: Spy Kids Trilogy

July 30th, 2011

Spy Kids Trilogy - Blu-ray: Spy Kids - Buy from Amazon, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams - Buy from Amazon, and Spy Kids 3: Game Over - Buy from Amazon

With the theatrical release of Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World just around the corner, there's no better time to release the original Spy Kids Trilogy on Blu-ray. How well have these three films held up? And are their Blu-ray debuts worth picking up? Or are they just shovelware and a cheap cash grab?

Spy Kids - Buy from Amazon

The film looks at the Cortez family: Gregorio, Ingrid, Carmen, and Juni. They are the most boring family in the world. At least that's the opinion of the two kids, Carmen and Juni. The only exciting thing about them is the bedtime stories their mother, Ingrid, tells them about two spies working for opposite sides who fall in love and retire to raise a family. This isn't just a bedtime story, and Ingrid and Gregorio actually were spies who fell in love and retired.

At the beginning of film, Gregorio learns that one of their friends and still active spy has gone missing, the latest in a series of missing spies. His old boss, Devin, asks him to go on one last mission. Ingrid, also desperate for action, forces him to let her come along leaving the kids with Uncle Felix. It isn't long before the mission goes sour and Gregorio and Ingrid are captured by Fegan Floop, a kids show host and mad scientist, and his minion, Alexander Minion.

After the red alert goes off in the home, Uncle Felix explains the situation to Carmen and Juni, and the pair are forced to go on the run. But thanks to the strange activities their parents made them do every morning, Carmen and Juni and prepared to take on the duties of spies and rescue their parents.

When Spy Kids came out on 2001, director Robert Rodriguez was best known for his low-budget El Mariachi series, while he has also made a couple horror films. So making a kids movie was a little strange. That said, it quickly became the biggest hit of his career (and it still is a decade later) and it is not hard to see why. It's a really fun movie. It's a goofy movie, it's a nonsensical movie, but it's a fun movie. The basic plot in not very in-depth and has been done many times before. (Dysfunctional family bond over great danger.) But the chemistry of the cast and the sheer imagination of Robert Rodriquez lifts the movie above its peers.

The Extras

The original DVD was a featureless disc. So is the Blu-ray any better? Yes. It's a lot better. Extras start with a two-part 48-minute retrospective on the franchise, not just the first movie. It includes the origins of the movie from genesis of the story, finding the cast, etc., to the legacy of the films. Next up is Robert Rodriguez's ten-minute film school, which is something he does in a lot of DVD releases. This one focuses on the special effects in the movie, which were done on a much smaller budget than most special effects from 2001. There's also a ten-minute cooking school about making a Texas grilled-cheese sandwich and a fruit smoothie. Finally, there are two shorter behind-the-scenes / interview featurettes on the stunts and the special effects.

The film looks great on Blu-ray with very good details and excellent colors. This is a very colorful film, so making sure they popped was important. My biggest complaint is with some of the special effects shots, which haven't really stood the test of time and the extra clarity of High Definition hasn't helped. The audio is even better with the surround sound speakers, and the bass, getting a workout. It's definitely worth the upgrade from a technical standpoint.

The Verdict

Spy Kids is still fun to watch a decade after it was released and the Blu-ray is not shovelware, as I had feared. The price is inline with expectations and certainly worth the upgrade.

Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams - Buy from Amazon

After the events of the first film, Gregorio and Ingrid are back in OSS. Not only that, Carmen and Juni are also officially spies as part of a new Spy Kids division. They have rivals in Gary and Gerti Giggles, who use their super-duper spy gadget to rescue the president's daughter, Alexandra.

The rivalry goes beyond who can rescue the president's daughter better after Gary frames Juni for stealing a MacGuffin and Juni is tossed out of the OSS. Meanwhile, Donnagon Giggles is named the new head of OSS over Gregorio. In order to get Juni his job back, Carmen comes up with a plan. They will spy on Gary and Gerti while they are being briefed for their new job and beat them to it.

Thus they travel to the island of Leeke-Leeke and encounter the strange Romero and his collection of even stranger ... spoilers.

Spy Kids 2 does what sequels like this should do. Its takes the set-up from the first film, and makes it bigger and even more fantastical. Granted, the film's basic premise isn't as fresh this time around and a lot of elements are borrowed (right down to the mad scientist turning out to be not a bad guy). But everyone involved has better chemistry together, and that helps. (I didn't even bring up Ingrid's parents in the plot description, but Holland Taylor and Ricardo Montalban join the cast this time around.) The special effects are bigger and better. (Although the movie cost less to make than the first one did, there are twice as many digital effects.) I especially love how Romero's creations mimic the classic look of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion style.

The Extras

Unlike the first film, the second film had a lot of extras on the DVD. They are ported over on the Blu-ray, but it is shovelware. Extras start with an audio commentary track with Robert Rodriguez talking about how he made the movie and what lessons he can pass on to those who also want to make movies. I think the number one lesson is shoot digitally, because it saves a huge amount of money in a number of ways. There is another ten-minute film school, again on the special effects and how to save money. A New Kind of Stunt Kids is a seven-minute featurette on the stunts in the movie, and how many of them were done by the kids themselves. There are eight-minute of deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary. Next up is a music video for "Isle of Dreams", featuring the two stars. There's a five-minute School at Big Bend National Park, which has the kids learning about the park where some of the movie was shot. There's a three-minute look at the gadgets in the movie, twelve minutes of behind-the-scenes, and finally the episode of 24/7, a Family Channel show, that looked at the making of the movie.

The film was shot digitally, so it should come as no surprise that it looks great. Granted, it was a relatively low budget movie and it is nearly a decade old, so it doesn't look as good as a first-run feature would today, but it looks better than the first movie does. The sound is equally impressive with immersive surround sound and solid bass levels.

The Verdict

Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams is underrated. It earned the weakest box office numbers of the original three films and that's not really fair. It's perhaps not as fresh as the original, but it is just as entertaining. The Blu-ray is shovelware, unfortunately, but it looks and sounds great and it is worth picking up for fans of the movies.

Spy Kids 3: Game Over - Buy from Amazon

After the events of the second film, Juni has had enough of the spy game and decides to work for himself as a private eye helping kids (including Selena Gomez in her first movie role). One day OSS asks him to come back, but he's through with them and there's nothing that can get him to come back. ... Almost nothing.

Several members of the Spy Kids department of OSS have gone on missions to take down The Toymakers, a mad scientist who OSS had trapped in Cyberspace, but who has now built a video game that he can use to escape back into the real world. The latest agent to disappear was... Carmen. Juni's still not willing to forgive OSS and come back, but he's certainly not going to abandon his sister. Once inside the game, he realizes it won't be as easy as he thought, as not only does he have to deal with the challenges set up by The Toymaker, but he also has to compete with Beta Testers. He will have help, as he finds a power-up that will allow him to import one person from real-life into the game, and he chooses his grandfather, Valentin Avellan, who has a history with The Toymaker and a score to settle.

After three Spy Kids movies released in under two years, the series was bound to suffer, and that's certainly the case here. The film's opening doesn't have the same pace as the first two movies, so the movie doesn't really start till Juni gets sucked into the game. It does still have the bright colors and imagination gone wild of the first two films, but sadly the 3-D effects are more gimmick than substance, and the Blu-ray doesn't have a 3-D option. (In the audio commentary track, Robert Rodriguez mentions he has a polarized version of the 3-D, so there's a chance the film will be released in that format when Spy Kids 4 comes out on the home market around Christmas time.) Because Juni spends a lot of his time in the game with four new characters, it doesn't have the same sense of family as the first two movies. There's still a lot of action and thrills, but it doesn't have the same amount of heart. (And the cameos really get out of hand in the end.)

It's not a terrible movie, in fact, it's above average for a kids movie, but it is a step down from the first two.

The Extras

Again we start with an audio commentary track with Robert Rodriguez that is heavy on the technical details. The ten-minute film school is on the extensive green screen shooting in the film, and then a little bit on adding sound effects to home movies. As part of the film's premiere, Alexa Vega sang a few songs from this movie and the previous film. There's a 21-minute making of featurette, a 7-minute featurette on the special effects that shows the various stages from green screen shots to final film. There's a 1-minute behind-the-scenes look at Alexa Vega recording the main theme song. There are storyboard look at the surfing scene. And finally a look at Bill Paxton with his lasso. All of the extras are ported over from the previous DVD release.

There's good news and bad news with the look of the film. Like the previous film, this one was shot digitally, so it has all of the benefits of that. However, some of the special effects have not aged as well and seeing them in their full high definition just makes that more obvious. The audio is very immersive, especially in the numerous action set pieces.

The Verdict

Spy Kids 3: Game Over is the weakest of the three movies and the Blu-ray is missing the 3-D version, which is what made the film stand out the most. Unless you are a major fan of the series, it's probably better to stick with the first two, as they've aged better.

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Filed under: Video Review, Spy Kids, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams