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SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi
Director:  Kerry Conran
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  106 Minutes
Release Date:  January 18, 2005

“Our last moments on earth, and this is all you have to say to me??”

“Couldn’t we just for once die without all this bickering?”

Film ***1/2

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow dips into the same well that once gave us Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It hearkens back to the fun of Saturday morning serials where words like “Romance!” “Danger!” “Action!” flew at you from the screen in a kind of playful braggadocio that kept movie fans hanging on from one week to the next.

The difference is that writer/director Kerry Conran employed modern technologies to tell an old fashioned tale.  Possibly the first movie since Brazil to create a “retro-future” look, Sky Captain seems to take place between the World Wars and has a decidedly old fashioned style in terms of look, craft and fashion…yet computer animation filled the frames with visual wonder and a no-holds-barred approach to imaginative filmmaking that the old serial artists could only dream about.

It stars Jude Law as Joe, aka “Sky Captain”, a swashbuckling pilot, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly, the kind of plucky female reporter that risks life and limb for a good scoop.  The reason I mention them up front is because the way they play off of each other with Conran’s scripts is another of the movie’s throwback pleasures.  I was reminded of the banter between Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in All About Eve, or even some of the classic Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn comedies.  This duo is out to save the world…if they could only get off each other’s cases first.

This is definitely a movie that emphasizes style over substance, but one that gets the style part so gloriously right that it more than serves the purpose for entertainment value.  The plot, as in the old serials, is just an excuse to thrust our heroes into and out of one eye popping situation after another, and we can’t help but clap, cheer, gasp and giggle in our seats the whole time.

As it is, the story involves the one-by-one disappearance of a number of world renowned scientists.  It turns out, they all have a connection to some secret project that was more dastardly than anyone could imagine.  Now Totenkopf, the man behind the project, seems to have resurfaced to finish what he started…but where is he, and what exactly is he hoping to accomplish?

Some of the scenarios include a classic New York under siege by gigantic flying robots, planes that quickly and efficiently slip from aircraft to underwater vehicles, a tremendous flying airstrip manned by the lovely and mysterious Franky (Jolie), and a final face-off against the mad scientist behind it all, who happens to be played by none other than Laurence Olivier.  Considering how long the great British actor has been dead, I have to say, he must have one hell of an agent!

The film is fascinating from a technical standpoint in that the actors never left their soundstage and performed all against blue screen backdrops.  Computers took care of the rest, creating the kind of world and special effects that would have been impossible by conventional means.  It’s like a living breathing comic book in the way it looks, feels and plays out.

The more the movie played out in front of me, the more I enjoyed it.  I may have been a little skeptical in the early going, but the simple story and the enjoyable characters were enough to win me over.  The constant start-to-finish eye candy was just bonus.

Quite simply, this is one of the most imaginative and creative uses of computer technology in recent memory; taking what is new and making it seem old, but fresh at the same time.  I don’t mind saying that I hope Sky Captain flies again in a sequel.

Video ****

Simply astounding…this movie is all about the look, and Paramount’s beautiful anamorphic transfer preserves every luscious detail.  The color schemes, which are frequently shadowy or tinted with a bit of sepia, come through with clarity and integrity, with sharp clines and crisp images throughout.  A visual knockout!

Audio ****

2005 gets off to a good start with this stunning 5.1 sound mix, which is both overpowering and ambient.  Subtle sounds keep the action alive be it in the sky or underwater or in the big cities.  Crossover effects are clean and smooth, dynamic range is super-strong, and the .1 channel keeps the action sounding thunderous and rattling.  Reference quality all the way.

Features ****

Paramount jam packed this disc with all the goodies you would want.  There are two informative commentary tracks:  one by Kerry Conran and his technical crew, and one by producer Jon Avnet.  A two part documentary “Brave New World” takes you behind the scenes and shows how the movie came about and how it was done with cast and crew interviews.  The original 6 minute short Conran made on his computer to sell his idea is included, and is quite cool, along with a pair of deleted scenes and a short gag reel.  A look at the art direction and some previews round out a quality disc.

Summary:

Paramount came out of the chute quickly with a title that will set the standard for DVD in 2005.  Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a fabulous disc, and a fun, eye-popping throwback of a thrill ride.  Recommended.

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