|Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 25 January 2005|
“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is an homage to ‘30s and ‘40s serials, comic books and other stylistic adventures that utilizes some of the most advanced and up-to-date computer-generated (CG) technology available. Conceived of and directed by Kerry Conran, the film was shot entirely in front of blue screens, with minimal props and set design. Everything besides the actors was created digitally and the result is a look that both reflects and mimics serials, as well as the comic books from which the creators divined their inspiration.
The film begins in ‘40s New York with the disappearance of a number of famous scientists, most of whom are being tracked unsuccessfully by intrepid reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow). Shortly after Polly meets with the lone remaining scientist, the city is invaded by giant flying robots. Unable to stop the mechanical giants, the authorities call in Sky Captain Joseph Sullivan (Jude Law). Joe manages to cause the robots to flee, thanks to some fancy flying. Polly joins Joe back at Sky Command and there we find out more about the intruders from Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), the technical wiz behind Sky Captain’s accoutrements. After another attack on the city and on Sky Command, Dex is kidnapped while Joe and Polly are fighting off the attacking robot ships. Following a clue that Dex left, Joe and Polly fly to Nepal where they find they are looking for a Dr. Totenkopf (a digitally recreated Sir Laurence Olivier). Totenkopf has been using the missing scientists to create what he calls the World of Tomorrow and Dex, Polly and Joe must stop the Doctor before it is too late. Constantly attempting to thwart them is the Mysterious Woman (Bai Ling), who causes them more than one headache from a rude bop on the head. Once in Nepal, Joe and Polly meet with a former slave of Totenkopf’s who points them towards an as yet undiscovered island in the middle of the Atlantic. Joe calls upon the help of Franky (Angelina Jolie), a fellow pilot and former flame who immediately rubs Polly the wrong way. With the help of Franky and her pilots, Joe and Polly attempt to penetrate the final defenses that Totenkopf has left, and in the process try to unravel the mystery of the kidnapped scientists and the whereabouts of the still missing Dex.
This is the type of film that you will either love or hate, depending on how into the genre you are. While the effects are phenomenal, they are created in a comic book mentality, so that not only does the film have a hyper-real feel to it, it also actually at times seems as though a comic book has come to life. Additionally, because the film is in part an homage to ‘40s serials, it simultaneously maintains a realistic feel, simply a reality from 60 years ago. The dialogue and characters are old0fashioned and often tongue-in-cheek. Law embodies Sky Captain to a T, as does Paltrow with Polly. Ribisi and Jolie provide even further stability to a script that, though simple, is executed as well as could be hoped. “Sky Captain” is Kerry Conran’s directorial debut, and while his novice status does show at times, the excellent cast and the overall strength of the vision help to avoid calling too much attention to first-time giddiness. As long as the viewer understands the throwback look and feel of the film, there is nothing but enjoyment that is likely to come out of it. The effects and overall design are really rather remarkable and the bonus features accentuate just what a monumental task the undertaking was and ultimately how successful the final film truly is.
Hits: The gag reel and deleted scenes both show just how much blue screen work there was in the film and it gives an appreciation for the work of the actors and animators. Besides being amusing, both reels have differing levels of completion in their format. At times, we simply see the actors in front of a blue screen. At other times, we see partial early renderings of the backgrounds, while at other points, the full scene is included, complete with music and fully rendered backgrounds, foregrounds, shadows and the works. It’s a neat little step-by-step look at how a scene can be constructed. The Art of World of Tomorrow features production designer Kevin Conran (Kerry’s brother) taking us through various aspects of his production drawings and how they were fully rendered in the final film. He discusses his techniques and also his inspirations for both costuming and overall set design. The Two Chapters of Brave New World comprise an in-depth look at the film, from preproduction to production and on to post-production. Because there were so many people involved in animating and rendering the film and because it took so long to create and complete, the documentary is replete with information but presented and edited in a way that maintains interest in this fascinating project. It more than anything helps to impart the sense of scope and patience that it took to bring this film to the big screen.
Misses: Paramount has included five trailers for upcoming film and DVD releases, all of which are under their banner (of course). There are no trailers for “Sky Captain” and it is impossible to circumvent the viewing of said trailers; they must be watched, and though you can chapter skip out of them, you cannot simply press the menu button and be taken away from them. Not only is this brazen (though understandable) self-promotion, the lack of any “Sky Captain” trailers is a shame. Due to the in-depth nature of the featurettes, the commentaries often include periods where nothing of value or interest is being discussed. The commentary from producer Jon Avnet is somewhat pedantic and at times dull. The interviews during the featurettes provide more spark and information than either of the commentaries. The second commentary with director Conran and the visual effects crew seems at once superficial and too in-depth.
The film, shot on HD and transferred to film, looks phenomenal in this transfer that must have been done either from the original film blowup or the final high-resolution rendering. Either way, the shading and texture of the design work, especially the color timing, is exquisite and truly exhibits the talents of the production team. The Dolby Digital mix is superb and the voices are mixed especially well, as is the score. There is no English stereo mix, so for those without a nice surround system, I tested it on a pair of television speakers, and nothing seems to get left out: it’s just flatter.
For a film that did surprisingly poorly in the theatres, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is well worth a look on DVD for any and all, especially where many of the bonus features will give viewers a better appreciation for the film as a technical achievement.