Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams Blu-ray Review
Are the kids still alright?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 30, 2011
Whether you're old enough to have seen them in their original theatrical exhibitions, caught them on their regular television broadcasts, or are part of a younger generation that got to love them in any of their home video releases (including on Blu-ray), the films of Ray Harryhausen hold a special place in a lot of film lovers' hearts. In fact, included in the boxed set of Blu-rays of Harryhausen films is a great documentary where any number of stellar Hollywood directors, many of them modern icons, talk about their long histories with Harryhausen films, films which imprinted themselves on these craftsmen's minds when they were very young. As I mentioned in my review of the first film in this franchise, Spy Kids
, writer-director Robert Rodriguez seems like perhaps the least likely creator-helmsman to ever come up with the premise for the film, let alone invest it with such joie de vivre
and heart. What may strike some as equally as unexpected is the Rodriguez seems to be yet another major director with a deep love of Harryhausen's often wild and wacky film world(s), and that love shines through huge swaths of the second film in the Spy Kids
universe, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
. This sequel, which might be thought of as a sort of Spy Kids Meet Dr. Moreau
(kind of like those old Abbott and Costello monster movies), is, if anything, even more manic than the first Spy Kids
film, and is stuffed to the gills with fantastic gadgets, props and sets. The unexpected overwhelming success of the first Spy Kids
film meant that Rodriguez had a fairly carte blanche
offer from Miramax for the second film, and yet Rodriguez, always the iconoclast, stated he didn't want more money, just more ideas. And Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
is like a Rodriguez fever dream, a quasi-hallucinatory journey through an internal (and actual literal external) amusement park, where even if things don't make perfect sense and character takes a back seat to spectacle, there's always a new ride to experience and in Rodriguez's film, waiting in line hardly ever comes into play.
Just as in the first Spy Kids
, the interrelationships in family are the major subtext running through Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
. The Cortez family is of course back, including our titular heroes, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara), as well as their spying parents Greg (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Cara Gugino). Just for good measure Ingrid's parents are also on hand, played by guest stars Holland Taylor and Ricardo Montalban. But there are a number of other
families is various states of dysfunction this time around, including the President (Christopher McDonald) and his daughter (Taylor Momsen). There's also the Giggles family, nemeses of the Cortezes, including dad Donnagan (Mike Judge) and his kids who are also spies, Gary (Matt O'Leary) and Gertie (Emily Osment). An early sequence in a madcap amusement park (run by Bill Paxton in an amusing cameo) places the President's daughter in a self-inflicted predicament (in an attempt to get Daddy away from the nuclear football to start paying attention to her
, for crying out loud). Carmen and Juni are called on to get her out of the situation, but Gary and Gertie butt in and save the day. Gary also has designs on getting his hands on a super-secret device that the President's daughter has absconded with, and that sets a whole series of events into motion that catapults the film toward the island of the title, an island where yet another quasi-family comes into play, namely that of mad scientist Romero (Steve Buscemi like you've never seen him) and his gaggle of mutated animals.
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
is a little too self-aware for its own good, trading in on the audience's goodwill generated from the first film in exchange for anything even approaching character development or even real suspense. This is a film where one gadget is never enough, and Rodriguez fills the frame with one bizarre vision after another, whether it's bad guys with magnetic helmets that are sucked onto a gigantic spaceship to make their getaway or a bright purple, kind of rubbery looking submarine Greg and Ingrid pilot to get their kids out of harm's way or even literal flying pigs that purloin Carmen and Gertie to a treetop nest. Some may react to this madness as being a prime example of directorial overkill, but Rodriguez does it all with such whimsy and frequent flashes of humor that it's hard to really come down too
hard on it all.
Two things help to salvage what could have otherwise been little more than a live action cartoon (not that there's anything wrong with that). First of all is Rodriguez's homage to Harryhausen, which includes a bevy of fun and funny creatures, including that great Harryhausen staple, the fighting skeleton. But perhaps more importantly, the film is just so patently silly most of the time that its very whimsy helps to keep its momentum moving ahead even if individual bits fall a little flat. It's not unusual for sequels not to measure up to the first film in their franchise, and Spy Kids 2: The Island of the Lost Dreams
is probably no exception. But it's still a fun and often funny enterprise, and if nothing else, it is most certainly full of big ideas.
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams Blu-ray, Video Quality
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
is presented on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. The film is suitably dreamy in its high definition Blu-ray premiere, which means both that the image is robust, beautifully saturated, but also just slightly surreal a lot of the time. Rodriguez uses huge amounts of CGI, and while the effects are generally quite good, some of them can be a bit on the soft side. The best effects here are the homages to Harryhausen, which for the most part look sharp and very well detailed. Some of the green screen works shows its seams (literally a couple of times, with haloes and flares), but overall the film's effects have aged extremely well and look very good to excellent here. Colors are about as lurid as in the first Spy Kids
outing, and are just this side of blooming territory a couple of times. But fine detail is abundant, the film's natural grain structure has largely been preserved, though a hint of DNR seems to have been applied. Sharp eyed videophiles will notice some very minor edge enhancement in a couple of the outdoor location shots.