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"Looks deceptively like a sophisticated and stylish autumn treat."
"A poorly scripted story with excessive allusions corrupts the final product."
"A fantastic looking picture so obsessed with its own appearance that it forgets how to tell a story."
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow   


Cast

'Sky Captain' Sullivan: Jude Law
Polly Perkins: Gwyneth Paltrow
Capt. Franky Cook: Angelina Jolie
Dex Dearborn: Giovanni Ribisi
Editor Morris Paley: Michael Gambon
Mysterious Woman: Ling Bai
Kaji: Omid Djalili
Review September 2004

My teachers always told me: "Never judge a book by its cover." And I should have listened. Starring Jude Law as the heroic fighter pilot, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" transports audiences back to 1930's action/adventure noir. When Sky Captain's best friend is taken hostage by an evil scientist, he and his ex-girlfriend Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) along with squadron leader Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) must come to the rescue and save the world. Written and directed by first timer, Kerry Conran, the film visualizes the world of yesteryear through the blue screen lens of tomorrow. With sizzling special effects and an Oscar latent cast, "Sky Captain" looks deceptively like a sophisticated and stylish autumn treat. But once accustomed to the smoky filters and light permutations, the film peters out, leaving very little substance between the pages.

It's 1939 and the world's greatest scientists have been kidnapped. Hot on the mystery trail is Gotham City Chronicle reporter, Polly Perkins. Perkins suspects a former World War I German scientist by the name of Totenkopf is masterminding the effort, but she needs more evidence. Meanwhile, a group of mechanical monsters is terrorizing downtown Manhattan and the only one who can stop them is Sky Captain. After successfully defeating the robots, Sky Captain returns to base camp to find his ex-girlfriend, Polly, snooping around. And while Captain's best friend and sidekick, Dex Dearborn, tries to pinpoint the origin of the robots, Sky Captain and Polly seek out the last world-renowned scientist. But unfortunately, they are too late. And the scientist is kidnapped. Even worse, another wave of flying robots ransacks the Flying Legion base, taking Dex hostage.

To save his friend and uncover the mystery of the disappearing scientists, Sky Captain begrudgingly teams up with Polly on a search and rescue mission to the far reaches of the world. Following a brief visit to Shangri-La, the two escape a team of evildoers and head for Totenkopf's mystery island. But along the way, Sky Captain's plane runs out of fuel and they are rescued in the nick of time by a large airship helmed by Captain Franky Cook. A British commander who once had a romantic fling with Sky Captain, Cook repairs and refuels the Captain's ship. Leading an all female amphibious squadron, Cook helps the duo reach their final destination in the hope that they may save Dex, the scientists, and the world.

"Sky Captain" is a throwback to the 1930's and '40's action/adventure days. Directed by Kerry Conran, the film finds inspiration in the "Flash Gordon" chronicles, the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, Max Fleischer's Mechanical Monsters in Superman lore, sounds from "War of the Worlds," and includes numerous inferences to King Kong from the seafaring vessel, Venture, to the broken cage underwater to the docking of a zeppelin atop the Empire State building. Polly Perkins even stumbles into a theater to rendezvous with a worldly scientist where a screening of "The Wizard of Oz" plays in the background. And then there is the cleverly manipulated CGI footage of Laurence Olivier, who died in 1989, but is found visually and in references to "Wuthering Heights" and "Marathon Man." All of these pieces are brilliantly tied together, throwing us back to a particular time and place.

Ten years in the making, "Sky Captain" showcases some fantastic looking effects. Giant robots shoot laser beams and rumble through downtown Gotham, Sky Captain pursues winged machines at breakneck speed, a gigantic British flying airfield provides safe harbor, the lost city of Shangri-La is discovered, and a mysterious island is filled with dinosaurs and exotic beasts. Blending a soft focus with high definition, the characters and their actions are made to stand out. Shot entirely in front of a blue screen over a period of 26 days, the film resembles the black and white serials of yore. But it does so without the rugged stop motion technique used in such classics as "The Lost World" and "King Kong." Although there are times, such as Polly avoiding the giant robot feet on the streets of New York, that look artificial; for the most part, it's pretty fluid.

Unfortunately, however, the visual novelty grows tiresome mid-way through the picture. And it's not because of a lack of technical achievement. Rather, a poorly scripted story with excessive allusions corrupts the final product. Expanding on a six minute reel of CGI robots stomping through New York City, "Sky Captain" goes beyond the references of 1930's pop culture to extract plot and character points from modern movies like "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones," and "Jurassic Park" to name a few. These similarities are so heinous and annoying that the scene transitions during Polly and Sky Captain's rescue mission become nothing more than sloppy seconds. And if that's not enough, the climax comes with an impractical and impotent punch, i.e. the earth is in jeopardy because of a rocket filled with farm animals.

For the most part, the dialogue and acting are adequate depictions of the 1930's adventure genre. Characterizations are simplistic and coy and conversations are short and to the point. Of particular notice, the relationship between Sky Captain and Polly is very elusive. Jude Law plays the flying ace with bravado and assuredness while Gwenyth Paltrow is sufficiently determined and vulnerable. Both are in love with each other but only know how to express it by quarreling. This chemistry, based on the nuance of "hard to get," is strong at times and weakened only by Polly's camera obsession. Lastly and with only a few moments of screen time, Angelina Jolie makes an appearance as the sexy, courageous naval officer Franky. Leading a squadron of female fighters in response to Sky Captain's call, Franky is the type of commander who always responds in full force. With a suave eye patch and seductive accent, Jolie's Franky is the most refreshing of the bunch.

"Sky Captain" is a fantastic looking picture so obsessed with its own appearance that it forgets how to tell a story. Much like this summer's "Shrek 2," which was filled with innuendo upon innuendo, "Sky Captain" overwhelms us with visual upon visual to distract us from a weak story. And it's a shame too. Because at first glance, it looks like "the world of tomorrow," filmmaking that soars to new heights and pushes new boundaries with a visionary paintbrush. Yet beneath the shiny surface, it's filled with tedious iterations and questionable mechanics - the exact antithesis of Dex Dearborn, a character who is able to map coordinates and chew gum at the same time.



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