Thursday, January 4, 2007

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow


The World of Tomorrow, Today!

“A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”--George Lucas

The above statement describes why the latest Star Wars Trilogy has been so boring, while a movie like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow can really shine. When I first heard about Kerry Conran’s film that was almost entirely computer-generated (except for the actors and some props), I was not very excited. CGI-filled Star Wars Episodes I and II have been a letdown, so why should this be any better? More CGI means less entertainment value, right? Okay, I know that’s not really fair, and besides, I’m one of few that really liked the Final Fantasy movie.

Somewhere in a parallel 1940's, Gwenyth Paltrow plays tough-as-nails (and perpetually red-lipped) reporter Polly Perkins, hot on the trail of prominent scientists that have all gone missing. While pursuing her best lead, giant robots fly into New York to bash up the place. Sky Captain (Jude Law) and his trusty plane are called in to save the day! It turns out Polly and Joe (the Cap’s real name) have a history! Will the Captain and the reporter get back together? Where are these robots coming from and who’s controlling them? What is that mysterious sub carrier that Sky’s nerdy pal Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) keeps hearing over the radio? When will Angelina Jolie show up, wearing that cool eye patch?

Visually, this film looks amazing, as in Amazing Wonder Stories. If you have ever seen one of these old pulp sci-fi publications, you get where Sky Captain gets its inspiration. On top of killer robots, there are flapping aircraft, a cloaked assassin, and a megalomaniac in an impenetrable fortress trying to destroy the earth. Amidst all this spectacular imagery, however, I found it funny that my most memorable image was Paltrow tearing her skirt so she could run faster!

It's common knowledge that all the actors were shot in front of blue screens, and everything else was added in post--all to great effect. The fantastical elements are obviously effects, but so is all the “realistic” stuff (cars, cityscapes, set backdrops)--it’s pretty cool, and blends in well with the actors. Finally, the entire film has been treated to a luminous sepia coating and looks like an old photograph, which helps keep that “otherworldly” feel.

Despite what it must have been like for the actors, they fulfill their archetypical roles well, while chewing on the virtual scenery. Paltrow and Law (as well as Jolie and Ribisi) seem to be having a great time, and Conran’s script even gives them witty banter--and a great closing line.

Sky Captain definitely has some things in common with Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the look reminded me of Lars Von Trier's Zentropa, which was set in a similar time period, used a lot of the German language, and shot much of the action in front of reverse projection. While the former is pure audience entertainment, and the latter an art film, this movie feels more like an art-house flick than popcorn movie. I liked that.

Unfortunately, this movie is doomed to flop. With a studio not knowing when to release it (who picked September?) and first week returns amounting to a Paltrow, er, paltry $16 million, hardly anyone will see this unique entertainment. That’s really too bad, since while the Captain may be effective against giant killer robots, he doesn’t stand a chance against the mainstream juggernaut.

So, if your in the mood for something fun and out of the ordinary, check out Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Just hurry, because it’s going to be on DVD rather quick--which won't be a bad thing (two discs, anyone?).

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