The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow (2004)
Director: Kerry Conran

review by Jonathan McCalmont

Sky Captain is another attempt by Hollywood to revisit the history of science fiction. While Van Helsing gave us an ultimately empty treatment of classic Hollywood monsters, and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen failed not only to live up to the original characters but the source material in the shape of Moore's superlative comic, I'm happy to say that Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow is more successful than both of those films.

The film throws together the 'Sky Captain' (Jude Law) and spunky journalist Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) as they travel to far off lands to save the Captain's friend and resident genius Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) and foil the plans of the mysterious Totenkopf. Along the way we see giant rocket ships, robots, zeppelins docking at the Empire State Building, and dinosaurs - and that's without mentioning a trip to Nepal (where Omid Djalili reprises his Hollywood role as 'Asian scumbag') and a flying British aircraft carrier (commanded by Angelina Jolie).
futuristic aircraft in Sky Captain
The film is truly beautiful for having been almost entirely shot against a green screen, the sights and sounds jump straight from the pages of a 1940s' pulp novel and the colour schemes are even reminiscent of a 'colourised' black and white film. Law wears a traditional bomber jacket and Paltrow looks at times so much like Greta Garbo it's almost scary. This film is visually very impressive and respectful of its cinematic roots and despite being computer generated, it never slips into the kind of confused and 'busy' visuals which made the end of Van Helsing such a pain to endure. It is well directed and despite a minimal plot Kerry Conran keeps the film ticking along without pacing difficulties or any dull moments. There's even a nice running joke about Perkins' saving her remaining film for the next spectacular thing they see. In this respect, Sky Captain never disappoints. It begins with an attack by giant robots on New York and keeps building until the conclusion. It's extremely watchable and I didn't find myself bored for a minute. It was only after I walked out of the film that a couple of areas started to annoy me.
Jolie, Law, and Paltrow in Sky Captain
Firstly, the film is rather spectacularly miscast. While Paltrow is wonderful, Law seems massively out of place. The genre demands that the Sky Captain be a square-jawed American hero but Law plays him as a modern Englishman with a London accent. His doe-eyed looks and soft voice might well play well in a contemporary setting but they simply aren't believable in a film such as this. Ribisi looks identical to his role as Phoebe's brother in Friends and the medic in Saving Private Ryan and is asked to play the role of a scientific genius whilst looking more like a plucky mechanic. Indeed, if Law had been older and Ribisi taller a solid case could be made for them swapping roles. It was only when I read about the troubles Conran faced trying to get this film made and noticed the fact that Law and his former partner Sadie Frost were executive producers that I realised that the cost of getting this film made was Jude Law's star power.

Secondly, the plot is at times confused and serves to undermine any emotional drive it seeks to give the film. For example, Perkins begins as a spunky journalist who would do anything for her story but after some initial friction, the Sky Captain happily allows her to tag along and get the story. This means that Paltrow's character has nowhere to go except be an unsuccessful blend of comic sidekick and love interest, but the three roles demanded of her conflict and undermine each other. At one point Perkins keeps a valuable Mcguffin from Law's character but, given that the Captain has happily helped her get the story and saved her life, this comes across as motiveless at best and spiteful at worse. Indeed, the whole arc taking Joe (as the Sky Captain is referred to) and Perkins from hating each other to love is poorly handled and is unbelievable.

Finding Totenkopf and saving Dex are used to drive the plot forward, but this is not entirely successful either. The real motivation for finding Totenkopf is saving Dex (indeed, we learn more about how evil Totenkopf is only as we travel around looking for Dex) but when Dex is eventually found he is the one that saves the couple. Totenkopf is then found to be dead (interestingly, to portray Totenkopf they used archive footage of a young Laurence Olivier) meaning that both sets of motivations instantly dissolve at the end of the film, robbing it of any emotional weight which might have been granted by having a really evil baddie to destroy.
Sky Captain Joe flies into action
Despite these problems Sky Captain succeeds as an homage to a classic era in the history of science fiction simply because the genre's tropes are so lovingly reproduced on the screen from the Hindenburg III docking on the Empire State Building to the sleek lines of Totenkopf's rocket ship. One is even willing to gloss over the sterility of the central relationship and the occasionally questionable plotting as an even greater devotion to the source material (were Flash Gordon's relationships believable?).

All in all a fun way to spend an afternoon and an absolute must for any fan of the pulps.

Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow (2004)
Director: Kerry Conran

review by Alasdair Stuart

You will not see another movie that looks like this, possibly ever. Filmed entirely on green screen, this is a hymn to the pulp era, where two fisted pilots and plucky reporters battled evil scientists. And it's absolutely wonderful.

The setting alone is worth the price of admission, as becomes clear when the first five minutes of the movie involve a Zeppelin docking at the top of the Empire State Building. Lovingly rendered in sepias and blues, this version of New York is a bustling city of the future presented in a way that is deliciously old fashioned, and anyone with fond memories of Flash Gordon or King Of The Rocketmen will be right at home here, as the look and tone of these classic serials is updated in a way that is both faithful and unique.

There really is something going on in every frame here, whether it's Sky Captain's gadget-laden fighter plane, vast armies of flying robots menacing New York or mysterious ruins high in the Himalayas. All lovingly rendered and perfectly in context, the film's special effects continually place you in a world which is familiar but wonderfully skewed. This is the same New York that Lamont Cranston prowled, the same Himalayan mountain ranges that threatened Doc Savage and the same tropical jungles that Indiana Jones fought his way through. This is high adventure of the oldest kind rendered in the newest way and the film is simply huge fun from start to finish.

It's helped immensely by the central performances with Jude Law and Gwynyth Paltrow sparking off one another beautifully. They have a natural banter which harks back to 1940s' detective movies and it's consistently entertaining and often very funny, to watch. With able support from the always-impressive Giovanni Ribisi as Sky Captain's sidekick Dex and Angelina Jolie as the one-eyed commander of a flying observation post, this is pure spectacle backed up by a great script and great performances.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Please support this
website - buy stuff
using these links:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Send It
HK Flix
WH Smith
Argos.co.uk

home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2004 Pigasus Press