Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"
is great tribute to 1930s pulp adventures

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Starring: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie
Director: Kerry Conran
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

It's the 1930s, and America is being menaced by flying giant robots of mysterious origins. When big city ace reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow) finds herself on the trail of a story that might blow the lid of the secrets of the robots, she is brought back in contact with her old flame, Joe Sullivan (Law), also knows as the mercenary pilot Sky Captain. Together, they must stop the robot attacks before a mad scientist implements his apocalyptic designs on the entire world.

"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" is a fun movie if you enjoy comic books and light-hearted tales of high adventure. It's a trendmendous movie if you love the old adventure B-movies and serials, like "Bulldog Drummond" and "Flash Gordon" and even "The Shadow Creeps". It's a movie you positively have to see if you happen to have even the slightest effection for any of the above, because this movie captures the very best of all of those and produces a fantastic fantasy version of 1930s America where wise-cracking beat reporters and brave-hearted private armies stand ready to defend the helpless people of the world against mad scientists and fascist menaces.

"Sky Captain" is also a beautiful movie to look at. The visuals are great and the sets (particularly those that are actually backdrops or computer graphics) are gorgeous, and the art-deco world with its "retro" futuristic technology is one that lovers of old-time adventure flicks will have a great time getting lost in. The flying aircraft carrier of the Royal British Navy that our heroes rendezvous with at one point, as well as the lair of the movie's bad guy, are particularly fabulous. The best part of the film's look was the way they captured the "fakeness" of the old-time movies... the cityscapes, the giant robots, the planes, even many of the buildings the characters spend time in, LOOK like models, just as they did in the movies that inspired this one. But it's not "fake" in a bad or cheesy way, it's "fake" in the way it absolutely needs to be if the feel of the movie is to be right.

The same is true of the acting in the film as well. The style of performances, particularly those of Paltrow and Angelina Jolie (who appears as a British military officer in a small but fun role), are also in line with the the acting traditions of the 30s and 40s. Law doesn't quite manage to pull it off, but he's really the only one out of all the players who disappoints; he isn't BAD in his part, he just isn't quite in step with the feel of the rest of the film.

Now, for all my gushing about the look of the movie and the performances of the actors, I do have to fault "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" for not having enough of a script to quite carry the film. At several times during the film, I found myself wishing for a bit more characterizations of Polly, Joe, and even a few of the minor characters; they always managed to work it in during the oldies, so why not here? The "big reveal" about the nature of the threat was also a bit disappointing to me, and I would have liked to have seen that whole climactic sequence on the "secret island" be a bit more coherent and fleshed-out than it turned out to be.

Despite its weak points, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" is a movie that I highly recommend, and it's one that's a permanent part of my movie collection.

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