Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow

on September 17, 2004 by Kim Williamson
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Take a cultural grab-bag of such elements as art deco, RKO radio towers, sepia tones, dutch angles, expressionism, Max Fleischer cartoons, Superman and Flash Gordon serials, "Metropolis," zeppelins mooring to the Empire State Building, Manhattan of the '30s, P-40s with their Burma-battles Fei Hu nose art, and German secret-project scientists; add a dashing fighter pilot (Jude Law) shearling-sheathed in AAF garb and an equally mercenary and hard-boiled femme reporter (Gwyneth Paltrow) done in vintage Vogue duds—then attack the lot with huge airborne robots and batwing fighters letting loose with laser weaponry and you have "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." This retro-world/alternate-world science-fiction adventure, as reported in Boxoffice's June 2004 cover story, was mostly shot with the actors against bluescreen, with the settings digitally added after.

And oh!—what settings! From a Battle-of-Britain-like air raid over New York to the highest reaches of Nepal, where one Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier via digitized stock footage delivering lines like Goebbels) has constructed a mammoth mechanized complex straight out of Speer and plans to launch a space ark whose upper-stage ignition will light the atmosphere and incinerate all of man's evil behind, the backgrounds are breathtakingly rendered. By themselves, they make "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" a must-see, and perhaps the most original film of this new century.

Yet Conran told us that the film "is less to do with anything technical"—yet the end result has almost everything to do with the technical. That's partly because, like Nazi architecture, the look is so overwhelming; but it's also because the romance between Law's Sky Captain and Paltrow's Polly Perkins sputters more than sparks, as its by-the-numbers arc brings the feisty lovers together in one final "shot" that can be foreseen an hour before it arrives. So too the adventuring, thanks to its sheer, only-in-the-comic-strips unbelievability right from the get-go through the denoument. (Some of the P-40's ignore-the-laws-of-centripetal-force turns through the concrete canyons of Manhattan, where Sky Captain first engages Totenkopf's robot army, must have Chennault turning in his grave. At the end, the audience having been promised that the hero's final deed can lead only to his death, Sky Captain manages to live on nonetheless for a bruited sequel.) In the end, this is the fall film to see—but just once. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi. Directed and written by Kerry Conran. Produced by Jon Avnet, Marsha Oglesby, Sadie Frost and Jude Law. A Paramount release. SF/adventure. Rated PG for stylized sci-fi violence and brief mild language. Running time: 107 min
Tags: Jude Law, Marsha Oglesby, Sadie Frost, Paramount, Science Fiction, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Directed and written by Kerry Conran. Produced by Jon Avnet
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