SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Bai Ling
107 Minutes, Directed by Kerry Conran
let’s take the marketing hype down a notch. Sky Captain and the World of
Tomorrow advertises itself as the next evolution of motion pictures.
heady stuff. Sky Captain’s biggest novelty is that most if not all the
sets were CGI-generated. The concept isn’t new – this goes back to the first
painted backdrop that fooled audiences to believe that the actors were actually
on location rather than on a soundstage.
From a technological point of view,
Sky Captain is very sophisticated and stylish, light years ahead of its
early forebears like Tron (1982) or evil the then
highly-touted Bespin Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back
(1980). It’s is a lovingly made movie that’s like a languid cross between
Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rocketeer and The
Set in the early 1940s before
the invention of the jet engine, Sky Captain takes place in an alternate
world where there has not been a Second World War. In the opening credits, we
see “Brooklyn Films Productions” – an ode to the very origins of the film
industry, which began in Brooklyn before the moguls moved to sunnier Southern
In the gorgeous opening shot, the airship Hindenburg III
majestically docks at the top of the Empire State Building – a nice historical
touch as such a docking device was indeed going to be built, but later scrapped
when the real Hindenburg blew up, ending the Zeppelin era. The look and feel of
the movie is like a hand-tinted photo – sepia tones and Art Deco machinery and
dashboards. That glossy look suits Sky Captain’s 1940s setting and it
also helps to smooth over blending live action with the CGI elements.
"An enjoyable movie that wants to be the Raiders of the Lost Ark
for the new millennium
. . ."
Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow)
is like a blonde Lois Lane – an aggressive ace reporter for the New York
Chronicle. Just when a mysterious German scientist (the alternate world setting
means no Nazis!) warns Polly about a sinister plot to terrorize the world, giant
robots storm Manhattan, raiding the city for spare parts.
The call is made to
summon help from Sky Captain Joe (Jude Law), a pilot with a private arsenal of
secret weapons. Together Joe and Polly must track down the evil Totenkopf (a
disturbing computer reanimation of the late Laurence Olivier) before he can
destroy the world.
Sky Captain is an
enjoyable movie that wants to be the Raiders of the Lost Ark for the new
millennium. There are so many homages to Raiders which itself was a
reinterpretation of old Tarzan and Flash Gordon
serials from the 1930s and 1940s that all ended on cliff-hangers. From the plane
travelling across a map to a battle in Nepal (that had some uneasy racist
overtones) to the German (not Nazi!) Zeppelin, I was half expecting Jude Law to
plop on a fedora and crack a whip.
But Sky Captain never really takes off
– it doesn’t have the energy of an Indiana Jones movie because first time
writer/director Kerry Conran is no Steven Spielberg. Conran is too busy filling
the screen with slowly rotating special effects shots, showing off the
incredible intricate detail of his computer animation. The end result is that
it’s all about the scenery; not enough about the story.
Sky Captain, there have been a number of video game debuts, which mixed
live action actors with a CGI world. I couldn’t help but think that Jude Law and
Gwyneth Paltrow were a couple of actors in a role-playing game.
Captain goes for some witty stylized banter from the 1940s, you’d be better
off watching Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy or the
unforgettable Jennifer Connelly in The Rocketeer than watch Paltrow
plough through the serviceable dialogue.
And while you’re oohing and aahhing
over the CGI sets, you might notice that Paltrow doesn’t run very fast.
Buildings can collapse around her head and giant robots can be teetering to
crush her, but she barely breaks stride when she’s running away – perhaps a clue
that an entirely CGI set lacks something for actors to react to? Jude Law is in
his element in this throwback of a movie as he’s often compared to suave Golden
Hollywood stars like Cary Grant. But disappointingly, the usually tart Angelina
Jolie has little screen time and Chinese actress Bai Ling (Anna and the King)
doesn’t even have a line!
I’ve always maintained that
Hollywood has its priorities backward. Studios pour money into special effects
and forget that it’s all about the storytelling. Sky Captain’s gorgeous
technology should serve the story, not vice versa. It's like the supreme anti-Dogme
flick. Though this movie will pave the way technologically, hopefully, the next
movie that uses CGI this extensively will also have a gripping story to go along
- Harrison Cheung