"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku



I started writing my review of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW in my head, while still in the theatre. I was going to talk about the unique visual style, created from 100% digital sets, that gives the movie a soft glow and a stylish edge to the re-imagined past. I was going to talk about Steampunk, the genre that sets technological advances in the past far beyond what was available at the time (and most often, even what’s available now). I was going to compare the relationship between Jude Law’s Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Polly Perkins, sort of like those old movies with Carey Grant and Katherine Hepburn, how the two had an easy chemistry, and how Gwyneth was the best Katherine Hepburn since, well, Katherine Hepburn.

But then I got distracted with these punk kids. Five of them sat next to Grendel and me in the theatre and talked non-stop. I’m serious. They talked more than middle-aged black women, and if you’ve ever been in a theatre with five forty-something sisters giving Stella advice on how to recapture that groove, you know what I’m talking about. Grr, did those kids piss me off. (On the plus side, I did scare the one next to me so much that I probably set him on the straight and narrow. We were talking to ushers afterward, and they said the best is when you get the kids to piss themselves. Sigh. Next time.)

Then, Grendel and I stood in the lobby afterward and talked about important matters, like how Matt Damon would do the Macarena, and who to side with in the Lindsay Lohan/Hillary Duff feud. (I personally believe it’s extremely important to pick a side arbitrarily in matters that couldn’t possibly matter and then stick to it no matter what.)

By the time I got home, some of my luster was gone, and it seemed more important to make garlic bread and watch Medical Investigation with my dad (great Ep., by the way). And now it’s nearly 24 hours later, and some of my original excitement has faded.

But I still really enjoyed the movie, and think you might, too.

Let’s cover the plot: someone wants to destroy the world, and Sky Captain has to stop him.

Now, let’s get to more important things: the look of SKY CAPTAIN. Kerry Conran, the director, spent six years making this film, based on a six-minute short he made on his computer. The gimmick is that they really do use nothing but computer-generated sets, which allows Conran to give us exactly the look he had in his head.

How does this work? For the most part, fantastic. There are two things to talk about here, the sci-fi, and the general background. In case you haven’t seen the trailers, I won’t spoil some of the surprises, but I will tell you that Conran is quite inventive when it comes to multi-tasking airplanes. The robots are strange and exciting and different, the machinery a neat mixture of future and past. I’ve never been that into robots, but I enjoyed it immensely, and I can imagine most geeks needing Ritalin to calm down.

The other half of this is Conran’s idea of what 1939 might have looked like, had things gone differently. We get this beautiful old, clean never-existed-except-in-movies New York, luscious and warm; aglow. It might have actually looked like that (at least, in movies), except Conran tweaks it just a bit, like making the cars look old and futuristic at the same time. I can’t explain it more than that, but the yellow car was my favorite prop.

Then there’s the general scenery. This worked mostly well, with the ice crystals of Tibet my favorite; on some others I was more nonplussed. I think it helps to know they are all computers, which will make you appreciate it more.

Normally, I’m not a fan of stepping out of the movie experience to think about things on camera that way. In this case, it really would help, though, because if you thought it was real, you’d have to conclude that the cameras all had Vaseline on them. That’s because the filmmakers try to give everything soft-lighting. I enjoyed the effect, but it did take the backgrounds from photo-realistic to more beautifully painted canvases.

I think the reason the soft lighting decision was made was to give Paltrow and Law the “look” of the Thirties. And, they do look spectacular. Unfortunately, Jude Law spends much of the movie with a stupid helmet on, so I’m guessing many of you man-crazy ladies will be disappointed at the lack of eye-candy.

Guys will be pleased. Paltrow seems made to be one of those glamorous old-school movie stars. She delivers her lines with aplomb and a twinkle in her eye. She just has this great way of rolling her eyes. I like how intrepid reporter Polly Perkins always gets the best of ace flyer Joe, and yet we instinctively know she’d fall into his arms if he were to but ask. (Note: I don’t think it ever worked this way, except in the movies, and I imagine some feminists (the ones who can’t get laid), might be upset, but I think the intent here was to give us the feel of old movies more than any “statement” by Conran.)

(2nd note: my mother wanted me to take out the last part, but I think we all can agree that you hyper-feminists aren’t happy unless you have something to bitch about, and I didn’t want to disappoint you.)

The one-liners are decent—if not Indiana Jones good—with the best final line I’ve heard this year. About the only disappointments were the somewhat uninspired story, and Angelina Jolie.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why the collective jeans of maledom get wrinkled at her mere presence. It’s like the whole world is in love with Sally Struthers, and everyone is in on the joke but me. Seriously; she’s disgusting.

Also worth mentioning: the “bad guy” is made up of archival footage of long-dead Laurence Olivier. It’s not in-your-face, and I doubt it makes much of a splash, but it is a bit creepy.

And the story could have used some work. Conran has such a unique vision, that I think he at times sacrifices story for his visual agenda. It’s too bad they couldn’t have both.

But, that’s not the end of the world. SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is a fun film to watch, elevated to “event” status by the jaw-dropping visuals. Check it out.


Suspension of Disbelief Index (out of 10): 9.5. I don’t know what’s more unrealistic: the fighter planes, the Garden of Eden in the middle of China, a tank of gas lasting 567,000 miles, or Sky Captain falling in love with Angelina Jolie.

Genre Grade: This falls squarely in “Steampunk,” which doesn’t’ have many entries yet but I predict will be a bigger and bigger thing in the future. The two most recent examples are WILD WILD WEST and LEAUGE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. SKY CAPTAIN is miles better than those, so I give it an A-, pending more releases.

Pantheon Percentile: This isn’t the best sci-fi you’ll ever see, but it is a lot of fun. I also think re-watching it would allow me to see things I missed the first time. I give it a 74.


September 18, 2004

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