Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Style surplussed, story deficient vintage era inspired sci-fi banality. Better in concept than execution.

Released in 2004, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 11 Oct 2004 by Scott Morris
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With the probable exception of Hero, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is the most distinctive film you'll see this year. In terms of quality Jet Li's opening all kinds of whoop-ass on it, but there's certainly something to talk about in this faux fifties sci-fi homagey type thing. That's the actual technical name of the genre, by the way.

Set in a world which may look oddly familiar to players of the age old Megadrive shooter Steel Empire (itself very recently rehashed for the Gameboy Advance), zeppelins dock with the not-Empire State building in the not-New York environs of Gotham City (Batman not included) and everyone's jolly swell to each other, until pesky giant flying robots show up causing a ruckus. The police unable to cope, they're forced to call in Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), the legendary Sky Captain and his army for hire. As it turn out, his army gets minced in short order which he's rather stoically blaz? about, but we're getting ahead of ourselves I fear.

Against this background of a world gone robo-mad, intrepid reporter and old flame of the Capt'n Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) is trying to find out why certain respected scientists are being picked off by unknown robot related forces. Sullivan reluctantly teams up with Poly and they embark on a quest to stop the robot menace, save Sullivan's captured chief gadgeteer Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi) and along the way, save the world. Backup along the way comes from Francesca 'Franky' Cook (Angelina Jolie) and her amphibious squadron, which sounds rather like a mystifying double entendre.

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Without any exaggeration whatsoever, Sky Captain looks so vastly different from anything else you're going to see in a multiplex this year that it's more than worthy of comment on it's own. While the hyped and vaunted super shiny new technology process ex plus alpha that director Kerry Conran used to create Sky Captain turns out on closer inspection to be 'merely' a combo of Adobe After Effects plugins, that's not to denigrate the sheer individuality of their look. The not-quite sepia tones washed with the real colour overlays produces an effect that is occasionally stunning and never short of unique. The more or less entirely CG nature of the backgrounds gives the shooting match a very fifties sci-fi feel that, depending on how taken you are with the concept is either quaintly charming or utterly pony.

It's the rather rare difference of opinion time at theOneliner towers, with Rhythmwiz somewhat detesting every second it languished on screen and my good self following what would appear to be the common consensus of 'alright-ish', the kind of movie that were it to be summed up in a single noise would be 'mmmph'. Probably accompanied with a shrug of the shoulders.

See, the thing about Sky Captain is that it's a graphical technique in desperate search of a better story. The plot could rather comfortably be scribbled on a beermat, and the characters have about as much depth as a beermat. Reading the normally sensible Roger Ebert's review it would seem he's been given a different version of the flick than the rest of us, or perhaps better drugs than the rest of us. "In its heedless energy and joy, it reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark"? Pull the other one.

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I really wanted to like this more than I can actually justify. From the first time the trailer appeared it was clear that this was a movie I was actually quite excited to see in a way that really hasn't been grabbing me at all this year with perhaps the exception of Spidey 2. Sadly, the bulk of it is really rather soulless, and what imagination was there is mostly lost through a haze of filters. It certainly has it's moments - I defy anyone not to be enamoured with the experimental miniature elephant seen in one of the labs - it just doesn't have enough of them throughout it's runtime to make it a viable proposition for your entertainment dollarpound.

You've caught me in a bit of a quandary, dear readers. I can't tell you to go and watch this because it's an enjoyable movie, although it's certainly never less than competently produced, written, acted and directed. It's just a rare case where the idea of the movie is greater than the movie itself, where the film's concepts and techniques are so overpowering that the execution of them can't match expectations. For even casual film observers it's worth a squint at some point in your life, although it's not a priority. For the more hardcore amongst us it becomes almost required viewing on an intellectual level if not one watched for the actual enjoyment value. There's a very clever film trapped inside a rather mundane one here, and the glimpses that shine through are tantalising enough to give it a mild recommendation for the trivia value alone.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Kerry Conran
Cast list:
Gwyneth Paltrow (Polly Perkins)
Jude Law (Joe 'Sky Captain' Sullivan)
Angelina Jolie (Capt. Francesca 'Franky' Cook)
Giovanni Ribisi (Dex Dearborn)
Michael Gambon (Editor Morris Paley)
Ling Bai (Mysterious Woman)
Omid Djalili (Kaji)
The spectre of Laurence Olivier (Dr. Totenkopf)