and the World of Tomorrow”
Written and directed by Kerry Conran
Produced by Jon Avnet, Sadie Frost, Jude Law and
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Giovanni Ribisi,
Angelina Jolie, Michael Gambon, Ling Bai, Omid Djalili,
Trevor Baxter and Julian Curry
(out of four)
“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” nostalgically
looks back at cinema’s past while boldly looking
forward to experiment with new creative tools. The
movie recalls the naive age of action, adventure
and romance while also being a technological milestone.
It echoes the past while being like nothing you’ve
ever seen before.
The film was shot entirely in front of blue screens,
and the wonderful production design’s representation
of everywhere from old New York to Shangri-La is
one of the best cinematic worlds of the year.
Conran came out of nowhere with this film, whose
style he conceived on his computer at home to use
as part of his pitch. With soft focus and shimmering
light, the look recalls classic Hollywood of the ‘30s
and ‘40s, but the sets are the stuff the imagination
comes up with when sparked by radio serials or comic
The soft-focus, high-contrast photography of the
characters helps meld them with their artificial
environments. Many films fail at the digital revolution
game because their makers don’t use the new
tools properly. While 3-D modeling, textures and
animation have come a long way, it still doesn’t
look quite right when compared with real environments.
Conran has moved himself to the top of the digital
game, ousting the likes of George Lucas, who insists
on using the digital medium even when it proves to
be inferior. Like in the best stylized computer-animated
films, the gorgeous production design could only
have been made in this way. Newspaper headlines mesh
with the environment in super-impositions take advantage
of modern technology to replicate an old convention.
The story is right at home with the look. Jude Law
plays Sky Captain, aka Joe Sullivan, a crack pilot
who runs his own operation to help the hapless law
enforcement and government protect the world from
various threats. His remote base, located through
shimmering clouds, is full of cool machinery and
high-tech gadgets, designed by his main crew member,
Dex (Giovanni Ribisi).
Joe likes to keep his sensitive workings a secret,
but he doesn’t have much chance of doing so
once that nosy vamp of a reporter, Polly Perkins
(Gwyneth Paltrow), gets in on the story. Polly has
been trying to track down a series of missing scientists
when she receives a note to come to the Radio City
Music Hall, where she meets an old man as the “The
Wizard of Oz” lights their profiles. The film
offers further homage to the 1939 classic as the
characters enter deeper and deeper into a world of
wonder, and the romanticized earth is almost as magical
as the land of Oz, with airborne and underwater sequences
that go beyond the grounded Yellow Brick Road.
Jolie's lips real? You decide.
The old man is Dr. Walter Jennings (Trevor Baxter),
who believes he is the next, and final scientist
on the disappearance roster. He mentions a mysterious
man named Totenkopf to cryptically explain his connection
to a series of experiments several years ago. After
Joe saves Polly while defending the city from giant
robots aiming to steal its resources, she demands
that he take her along in exchange for information
she has to help him save the world. Of course, their
relationship has been a bit on the rocks since they
were a couple and Polly, according to Joe, sabotaged
his plane to get a story. This may sound like a lot
of the movie, but these plot points and their accompanying
sets all come up quite early, and the string of invention
and intrigue continues to the quite glorious conclusion.
True to the period “Sky Captain” replicates,
the action scenes are about discovery, not destruction.
While less visionary films focus more on the shooting
of whatever robotic or alien creatures the screenwriter
comes up with, Joe and Polly face their problems
with intuition and awe. And just as important as
staying alive, Polly—with only a few exposures
left on her camera—has to decide which amazing
scene to photograph. The scale of invention is more
important than the scale of explosions. It might
be old fashioned, but it’s also something for
other action filmmakers to work towards.