"The 'Spy Kids' series has really just kind of been scrappily innovative," director Robert Rodriguez told me recently. And indeed it's true. "Spy Kids 2" was one of the first mainstream movies to be shot in high-definition video back in 2002. Now, of course, HD is an industry standard. Rodriguez's 2003 follow-up, "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," was the first 3D flick made in 20 years, which for better or worse, presaged cinema's current 3D boom.
So for the fourth movie in the franchise, "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," Rodriguez wanted to mix it up a bit.
"If we are going to come back with [a fourth movie], we can't just come back and just do 3D again. We might as well go one louder, go to 11."
The movie is billed as being presented in "4D." That fourth dimension is what Rodriguez calls "Aromascope." That's right --along with 3D glasses, audience members will also be getting a piece of cardboard with numbers printed on it. When the corresponding number flashes on- screen, the audience member swipes her hand over that particular portion of the card and takes a whiff.
Smell technology has improved greatly since the old 'scratch-and-sniff days. As Rodriguez explains, the old cards would lose their punch after a couple scratches. "They would bleed into each other, and that doesn't happen with [new technology]. The smells can be right next to each other and you can really smell what it is very, very clearly."
He also revealed that his five children were central to the development of Aromascope. "They were the only real testers the whole time I was developing it. I would get a package of smells to try out; I would try them out on my kids."
The idea of bringing the realm of olfaction to the silver screen isn't a new one. Movie impresario Mike Todd Jr. produced "Scent of Mystery" in 1960 which features varying odors getting pumped into the theater. Twenty years later, John Waters released his 1981 "Polyester" in "Odorama," which featured scratch-and-sniff cards that included some famously unpleasant smells.
Rodriguez says that though he was influenced by Waters's movie, his aim was to make a family movie. "There are some really fun bright colorful smells and then there are some surprising smells. But nothing will make anybody sick." He mentioned that last point twice during our seven-minute phone conversation. Clearly, this has been a topic of concern. As with any family movie, he tried to balance the concerns of parents with the demands of his target audience. "When we first tested the movie, some kids wanted even stinkier smells."
Though he was initially cagey about what scents might actually be in the movie, Rodriguez did hint to at least a couple stinkers in the Aromascope line-up. "We do have a baby in the movie, and we do have a dog."
So does this mean that Hollywood will be turning out literal stinkers in the future alongside their steady stream of figurative ones? Stay tuned and find out. In the meantime, "Spy Kids : All the Time in the World" opens this Friday. Watch an exclusive video of Robert Rodriguez offering filmmaking advice for kids below.