Monday, September 20, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

This weekend I went to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I can't recommend this movie enough. In the press there has been a good deal made of the fact that everything in the movie is computer generated, with the exception of the actors. Through the use of computers, first time director Kerry Conran gives the audience imagery never before seen in a "live action" motion picture. We see giant robots and later flying machines attack an art deco New York City which never existed, even though we are told the year is 1939. We see Shangri La, as beautiful as any of the settings in the Lord of the Rings movies, except that it is entirely computer generated. We see incredible devices and incredible sites, all through the miracle of CGI.

Despite the fact that its CGI has been publicised better than any other aspect of the movie, it is not what makes Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow such a good movie. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is at the same time nothing we haven't seen before and yet everything we haven't seen before. It is a wonderful combination of the old aviator comic strips such as Terry and the Pirates, the movie serials of the Thirties and Forties, Golden Age Superman comic books, and screwball romance. The heroes, Joe Sullivan (AKA Sky Captain) and Polly Perkins could have come from any number of Golden Age movies or Golden Age comic books. Sky Captain (Jude Law) is the head of a mercenary squadron of fliers, often called upon when the world is in danger (shades of Captain Midnight...). Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) is an ace reporter for a major New York newspaper and Sky Captain's on again, off again love interest (shades of Lois Lane...). The villain, Dr. Totenkopf (Sir Laurence Olivier through the miracle of archival footage), is a megalomaniac villain who builds giant robots and flying machines; he could have come from any number of comic books from the Forties. Even lady flier Capt. Francesca "Franky" Cook (Angelina Jolie) could have come from any number of movie serials or comic books from the era.

Indeed, I don't think any modern movie so successfully captures the spirit of 1930s media quite a much as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The movie feels even more like an old time serial than Raiders of the Lost Ark or any of its sequels. Joe and Polly's romance could have come straight from any number of screwball comedies. Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), Sky Captain's gadgeteer, could have appeared in any number of radio shows, serials, or comic books. The plot, in which the world is threatened by a megalomaniac, is original, although it is very much in keeping with any number of plots seen in movie serials and comic books from the Thirties and Forties.

Of course, all of this would be for naught if Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was not a great movie. Many times before directors have tried to do something different, yet failed, because the script or the performances were inadequate. This is not the case with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The script is well written, a fitting homage to the media of bygone days. The plot unfolds with nothing unnecessary and without poking fun at its source material. The performances, from Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, are first rate. Both make their characters three dimensional and believable, even when they are in unbelievable settings. Conran's direction is quite impressive for a first time director as well. Not once does he hit a wrong note.

As I said, I cannot recommend Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow enough. If you love movie serials, comic books, radio shows, old adventure comic strips--heck, if you simply love movies--you must see this movie!

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