September 2004
c o n t e n t s
'Sky Captain' Tomorrow and Yesterday
New Doc Exposes
What’s Wrong With the Corporation

August 2004

Personal Life of a Drug Mule Revealed in Stunning 'Maria Full of Grace'

'Open Water' A Thriller With Bite
Demme’s New ‘Manchurian Candidate’
a Taut Thriller

Don't Open 'Little Black Book'
It Takes ‘The Village’ to Disappoint an Audience

The only thing real in 'Sky Captain' is Gwyneth Paltrow's super dark lipstick.
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‘Sky Captain,’ Tomorrow and Yesterday

by Jeremy Mathews

“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”
Paramount Pictures
Written and directed by Kerry Conran
Produced by Jon Avnet, Sadie Frost, Jude Law and Marsha Oglesby
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Giovanni Ribisi, Angelina Jolie, Michael Gambon, Ling Bai, Omid Djalili, Trevor Baxter and Julian Curry

Rated PG

(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.

Writer/director 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 books.

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.

Are Angelina 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.

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