Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) / Sci Fi-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 107 min.

Cast: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi, Angelina Jolie, Bing Lai, Omid Djalili, Laurence Olivier, Michael Gambon, Trevor Baxtor, Julian Curry, Peter Law
Kerry Conran
Screenplay: Kerry Conran
Review published September 28, 2004

Sometimes there are those movies that tread the line between the mundane and the sublime so fully, I will keep going back and forth on my feelings about it on a daily basis.  Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a prime example of such a film.  If engaging aesthetics were the sole determinant of a filmís quality, this one could easily be one of the must-see films of the year.  In fact, in many ways, the film almost merits a viewing just to experience the gorgeous visuals and thunderous sound effects, which are truly unique and stunning to behold.  At the same time, Sky Captain is often as dull as dull can be in the story department, with wafer-thin characters, a confusing plot, and insipid dialogue. 

Yet, the way the film is presented, itís also hard to fault the creators for the bad elements, as it draws inspiration from many films and comic books of the 30s and 40s that are exactly like this -- fantastic stories with trite heroics and corny dialogue to string it together.  Itís an homage in almost every way, so here's the dilemma: should I fault the film for being artistically accurate, or should I blast it for being so conceptually dated in its writing as to inspire yawns from many of todayís audiences, including myself?

The film is set in 1939 -- well, not really 1939, but a marvelously confused version where the actual society and that which is imaginary coincide.  Gwyneth Paltrow (View from the Top, Shallow Hal) plays gutsy woman reporter from New York City, Polly Perkins, looking into the disappearance of a leading scientist in the world community.  Jude Law (AI, The Talented Mr. Ripley) plays the Sky Captain, Joe Sullivan, an idealistic mercenary who rescues people with his airplane whenever called upon.  The two had been an item in the past, but have gone their separate ways, until an invasion by giant robots in the city force them together again.  The robot incident and the disappearance of the scientist seem to be connected, so the duo heads to Nepal to try to uncover the secret behind these strange events. 

For the time being, Iím going to give in to my critical tendencies and claim Sky Captain as ultimately worthwhile for achieving everything that its first-time writer/director, Kerry Conran, set out to do.  The influences are many, from Flash Gordon, to Buck Rogers, to King Kong, to Forbidden Planet, to The Day the Earth Stood Still, to Star Wars, to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and many other films that captivated the minds of young boys growing up watching science fiction and adventure films. 

Much has been made of Conlanís technique of having his actors perform in front of blue screens with nothing around them, and the backgrounds and special effects added later.  Itís an unusual visual element at first, but very well done, and in fact, youíll probably forget about it once the story begins to unfold, so hats off to the special effects crew for this amazing undertaking.  Also impressive is the digitization of Sir Laurence Olivier (Rebecca, Spartacus), long since deceased, and putting him into the film as one of the main players. 

As much as I wanted to love Sky Captain for all of its extraordinary bells and whistles, in the end, I just canít resolve the weaknesses.  So much concentration went into the lavish sights and sounds that the story element is anemic, merely a necessary evil in order to push forward the fantastical elements and bits of homage.  When you conceive of special effects first, and waft a story to string these images together after the fact, chances are youíre going to come up with a less than fully realized project that excites only for a few choice moments.  We never learn the origin of the main protagonist, or why does what he does, and I doubt even Conlan really has an idea.  Characters are just a means to an end here, and sadly, we care little about what happens to them, or the world for that matter.  At least we can admire all the wonderful toys.

Qwipster's rating:

©2004 Vince Leo