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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) June 19, 2005

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Hollywood is currently drowning in the sea of mediocrity and this is a really sad state of affairs. But even sadder thing is when Hollywood does produce something original and refreshing only to see it tragically underappreciated and misunderstood. One of such examples is SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, 2004 science fiction adventure written and directed by Kerry Conran.

The simple idea behind the film proved to be too complicated to some reviewers when they tried to describe the plot. The story begins in New York, which looks very much like the New York in late 1930s, but some details point to alternative history universe. Polly Perkins (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is newspaper reporter investigating the mysterious disappearances of renowned scientists. Those disappearances coincide with the arrival of giant robots that are raiding major cities of the world in search of power and other strategic resources. The only force that could stop the robots is mercenary army called Flying Legion, whose leader and best pilot is Joe Sullivan a.k.a. Sky Captain (played by Jude Law). He reluctantly agrees to join Polly in her investigation, when the clues begin to connect missing scientists with mysterious Dr. Totenkopf, who might have something to do with the robots.

The author of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW took inspiration from the sources similar to those that led Lucas and Spielberg to create STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES trilogy – pulp literature, comic books and movie serials that characterised much of the popular culture in 1930s America. Those forms of popular culture were often branded as escapist, because they provided people with images of exotic lands and futuristic technology, thus helping them to forget the harsh realities of Great Depression. Conran took such escapism very seriously and transformed it into a fascinating fictional universe in which the present day looks exactly like the future imagined in 1930s pulp culture. Intercontinental travel depends on zeppelins, countries of the world aren’t preparing for world war, British Empire is global policeman, USA doesn’t have a strong army and has to rely to mercenaries for the protection.

Unlike other films inspired by 1930s popular culture, like THE SHADOW and PHANTOM, that approached their anachronistic subject superficially, SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW delivers a rich tapestry of details that require repeated viewings in order to be properly enjoyed. Many of those details are taken from the popular films of the period, while the architecture and fashion gives unmistakable influence of 1930s. Even the cinematography by Eric Adkins with its sepia tones provides almost surreal experience of 1930s film. To make things even more fascinating, almost entire film was made on computer, with actors brought to camera only later, almost without a single prop or set.

The film is visually fascinating, but so much care about its look and atmosphere was brought at the expense of plot and characters. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, who play the protagonists, work very hard in order to resurrect 1930s movie archetypes, but their efforts are doomed because of the one-dimensional nature of their characters and uninspired dialogue. Other actors are wasted in even less memorable roles, including Angelina Jolie whose brief and not particularly memorable appearance leaves little doubt that her casting was motivated by strictly commercial considerations. Jolie is easily overshadowed by much briefer, although more memorable appearance of Sir Laurence Olivier, whose image and voice were digitally manipulated to bring the great actor to his first posthumous acting role.

Yet, even with those flaws that were, in a way, unavoidable this delightfully anachronistic piece of digital mastery deserves full recommendation as one of the most important films of our times.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

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