Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Review by Sombrero Grande

If I only had a few words in which to describe Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, they’d have to be “golly” and “gee whiz.” Sky Captain is, in a way, the ultimate period film; not only does it seek to recreate a particular time period, but also recreate the very look, feel, style and cinematic language of said time period. In the same vein as Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rocketeer and even Star Wars, Sky Captain brings a story that could have been penned in an old serial or comic book from the early twentieth century into the modern age of special effects wizardry. And it does it well.

I went into Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow expecting essentially what I’ve come to expect from the Star Wars prequels: great special effects strung together with a cruddy storyline. I was very pleasantly surprised. The story was interesting and quite fun once it got going, and the characters actually had depth--just enough to serve the story, no more, no less. Sky Captain (Jude Law) is a real old fashioned hero of the Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers or Indiana Jones variety. He flies around in a custom airplane equipped with Batmobile-like gadgetry and is touted with a superhero status, yet the moment he’s behind closed doors he whips out a bottle of Milk of Magnesia to soothe his stomach and prove he’s an accessible human being after all. Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a nose-to-the-grindstone reporter not averse to putting herself into harm’s way to get her scoop. Together the two set out to unravel a mystery concerning disappearing scientists and run into giant robots, undersea battles, Shangri-La, a forbidden island crawling with fantastic creatures and much more.

The film was shot with the actors against a blue screen the entire time. Everything besides the actors and any props they directly interact with was completely generated on a computer. For me, the film bounced back and forth between pulling this effect off seamlessly and, well, not. In one shot in particular in Shangri-La, a faint blue line around an actor was visible enough to call attention to itself for me. When Polly’s car is driving down a darkened street, it doesn’t bounce or shudder like a normal car does; instead it glides along too perfectly--a computer model moving from one point to another with unnatural smoothness. Other than these pronounced moments, the effects as a whole were pretty good. I suppose film special effects have gotten to the point now where I’m no longer very impressed by good effects and highly critical of sub-par ones. Thankfully, gone are the days when the effects were the reason for the film (The Mask, Twister, etc.) Also thankfully, Sky Captain knows that and, while it’s intent on providing a constant stream of eye candy, has more than just effects to offer.

Jude Law is particularly dashing, charming and enjoyable as Sky Captain. Gwyneth Paltrow is okay as Polly Perkins. Giovanni Ribisi is awesome as Dex, Sky Captain’s inventor sidekick. Angelina Jolie plays a badass British Sky Captain equivalent with her usual dominatrix-with-a-heart-of-gold toughness. Overall the acting was quite good considering that most of the time the actors were playing off of nothing around them, and Ribisi absolutely shined in what’s probably the best role I’ve seen him in.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is an exciting and downright fun film. Make sure you see this on a big screen! This is the kind of movie that just won’t have the same effect on a TV screen that it does projected in a theater with a crowd of people. The images are blown out in areas of light and especially dark in the shadows, making it almost feel like a long-lost, forgotten film. While it’s not perfect (for instance, Polly refers back to “World War I,” but if this is set in 1939--as I’m assuming it is, based on the fact that The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights are shown playing in theaters--shouldn’t she have called it “The Great War” instead?) it’s clearly designed to be taken as an anything-goes serial adventure story. So the fact that Jolie’s character doesn’t get the bends rocket-packing out of the ocean should be taken with the same grains of salt as when dinosaurs are found on Totenkopf’s island. If you can accept the story as a ‘30s serial, you should have a great time.


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