Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) — Old genre, new digital age

“Could we just for once die without all the bickering?”

PoolMan’s rating: At last, a plan to destroy the world that involves launching cows into space!

PoolMan’s review: Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A hero and his spunky sidekick are the only people in the entire world who can stop a madman with a plan to destroy civilization as we know it, racing against time to stop a doomsday weapon only they can find. Wait, you know it? Dang. So did I.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is an interesting movie. Definitely. One of first movies to place live actors against entirely digital backgrounds in every scene, the movie is set in 1930s New York in amazingly nostalgic sepia tones and soft focus. The entire movie is an exercise in style, as writer/director Kerry Conran pays homage to every serial radio program and golden age movie that was ever made. Giant newpaper headlines, planes flying over maps, almost anything you can think of that’s been previously done by Indiana Jones gets copied over here.

And that’s the big problem with Sky Captain. Almost nothing about the whole story is original, with even the underwater sequences sharply reminiscent of the Naboo scenes from Phantom Menace. And when you’re cribbing notes from George Lucas’ worst, you know you’re hurting for inspiration.

Mind you, unoriginal as the whole thing is, it’s still pretty fun. Jude Law plays Sky Captain Joe Sullivan, the leader of a mercenary air force and former lover of Polly Perkins, smartassed newspaperwoman (wow, MSWord didn’t correct “newspaperwoman”… what an age!) who couldn’t be any more Lois Lane unless you dyed her hair black. Together they’re thrown into a global threat from the mysterious Dr Totenkopf, a bad guy who’s kidnapping scientists and stealing resources from around the world using gigantic robots.

Throw in Joe’s other former lover, a British Air Force commander by the name of Francesca “Franky” Cook and plenty of totally-didn’t-exist-in-the-thirties technology, and you’ve got some nostalgic yahooing to do. (Huh. Didn’t catch “yahooing”, either. Is this thing on?)

From the style of the clothing to the wartime poster manner in which people point to the sky, it will totally take you back (assuming you were around in the thirties, that is). I even noticed sound effects that sounded like they were lifted directly out of War of the Worlds when the robots fired their laser guns (a quick check to the IMDb proves me right!). It’s all done to tremendous effect.

But at the heart of everything, I think the problem I ended up having with the movie was the principals. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are both fine actors, but aside from a couple of moments, I didn’t get much feeling from either of them. Especially Law… you kind of expect someone who seriously expects people to call him “Sky Captain” would be a little more colourful. Law spends a significant amount of time with nearly no expression on his face. Too bad.

Maybe it’s still too early to be trying stuff like this. If you’re a reader of the site, you know how I feel about trying to make actors act effectively when surrounded by blue screen. Good on Conran for giving this the ol’ college try, cause the potential really shows, but until we get that inevitable sequel, I’m just not as impressed as I hoped I was going to be.

Kyle’s rating: Jude Law, your time will come

Kyle’s review: I was looking forward to Sky Captain. Who wasn’t? It looked like a straight-from-the-heart ode to sci-fi films of the past with plenty of modern humor and special effects tossed into the mix to make it both timeless and a film of the future. It had the dashing good looks and good-natured acting of Sexiest Man Alive 2004 Jude Law, and it had airplanes, leather jackets, and big robots. It seemed there was no way it could fail. Even so, cracks in the perfect veneer were readily apparent.

The coloring of the film was acceptable, and even though 95% of those old-time films are excruciatingly bad and impossible to watch and enjoy, if Sky Captain was a homage then maybe they’d correct the bad (dull and boring) and accentuate the good (well, story and derring-do). But the casting of two of the most unlikeable thespians in the world, Gwyneth Paltrow and Giovanni Ribisi, sounded warning bells in my head from the very start.

And seeing a whole lot of blimps in preview coverage made me uneasy. The problem with blimps is that while they look cool and seem more dangerous than they are, when you think about it they’re horribly slow and unwieldy, and only a character played by the likes of Tanya Roberts could conceivably be hoodwinked in any way by one (see: A View to a Kill). I didn’t know how much of a role Paltrow, Ribisi, and blimps would play in Sky Captain, but my enthusiasm was draining. Maybe that would be good, though, because then I couldn’t help but be surprised!

Unfortunately, I should have paid more attention to whatever organ controls my enthusiasm levels (insert pun here). Sky Captain was pretty dumb. I have a couple friends who loved it, and got a special thrill out of the King Kong references (?). But I think they have an affinity for those cornball older films. I have no patience for movies that are all about “Ooh, check out these special effects” and “Isn’t this the absolute coolest thing you’ve ever seen? Let’s stay with this for the next five minutes!”

Once Sky Captain started with the big “Check out this huge blimp which is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen / let’s watch it for the next five minutes!” scene, I knew I was in for a rough time. And once Gwyneth and Giovanni started screeching and grinning and flinging their metaphoric “poo” like the metaphorical acting monkeys they are, I starting thinking about other things to entertain myself, like wondering how much protein was in the plastic armrest if I was trapped in my chair and had to gnaw on my surroundings for food. Great job, Sky Captain!

Still, Jude Law remains a charming presence who is somehow completely forgettable in every forgettable film he’s made. He looks good and I’m willing to watch his films, but I can’t think of a single movie he’s been a part of that was a) good; b) rewatchable. Based on statistics and probabilities this simply shouldn’t be the case, but damn, Jude Law, what’s going on? I can name about five upcoming movies that Jude Law is a part of, so the hype machine is doing its job, but beyond that I’m not sure what the problem is. Sadly, I don’t really care.

It’s the same with Sky Captain. It was a lot of cool visuals and a lot of semi-interesting plot points, but nothing had the impact it presumably should have. Still, the movie practically knocks you over the head with “I’m a cult movie!” flair, so I’m sure there will be Sky Captain conventions and personal web pages of devotion coming your way very soon. But may I suggest Sky Captain performed rather poorly because it’s not as cool as it should have been? Oh well. We have Raiders of the Lost Ark — what more do we really need?

Didja notice?

  • Godzilla in the background of the photo in the newpaper from Japan.
  • Jennings’ lab is numbered 1138 (can anyone resist paying homage to THX-1138 these days?)
  • That’s quite an important button just sitting there (the Emergency Release in the rocket).
  • I’m sure the fuel line having caught fire wouldn’t be a problem in the slightest.
  • That’s nice that the airplanes are amphibious. Water is still as hard as concrete at that speed, however. (as illustrated by all the robots blowing up ON THE SURFACE)
  • Law, Paltrow, and Jolie each got their own poster for this movie, but Jolie only had a few minutes of screen time.
  • The sunken ship visible is the Venture, the ship used to transport King Kong.
  • Joe’s gun keeps changing from a semiautomatic pistol to a revolver.
  • Kaji looks an astonishing amount like Justin!
  • The presence of The Wizard of Oz in theaters dates it (at earliest) August 1939, a month before open hostility broke out in WWII. But Polly refers to “World War One” in a period where it would have still been known as “The Great War”.
  • [SPOILER] Polly mentions that Totenkopf died more than 20 years previous to the events of the movie. Sir Laurence Olivier, who played the evil doctor, died 15 years before the movie was made.

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