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Review – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

REVIEW SUMMARY: A technically marvelous film that, nevertheless, doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An evil madman (is there any other kind?) is bent on world destruction. Its up to Sky Captain and Polly Perkins to find him and stop his evil scheme before time runs out.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Mimcs the look and feel of 1930s and 40s seriels perfectly. Lots and lots of retro-future eye candy and some really interesting ideas.

CONS: Non-engaging characters. Antagonists presence is almost non-existent. Derivitive plot. Forgettable music.

BOTTOM LINE: Sky Captain is a worthwhile movie to see in the theaters. It looks great and is still a fun movie for all its faults. This one’s a DVD purchase for sure!


I guess I should never look at another movie trailer ever again. I don’t think Sky Captain could have ever lived up to my expectations from seeing just the trailers. Oh, don’t get me wrong, its a fun movie, a definite must-see, but it still falls short of greatness, a victim of the personal hype-machine. I’m going to steer clear of a re-hash of the plot and instead concentrate on my impressions of the movie. First, the good.

Sky Captain is meant to be a throwback to the days of the 1930-40s pulp science fiction seriels. It does this wonderfully. The fim itself was shot in color, washed out to black and white, then had sepia tones put back in to give it a noir-ish look and feel. Additionally, the tropes of the pulps are used as well. Things like the spinning newspapers, the crowd reaction shots, and the dialogue all evoke the fun (and campiness) of the old seriels. In fact, I’d say the technical aspects of the film are its greatest strength. It looks great and there was only one shot where I could really tell that CGI was used. The rest of the time the process of ‘pulpizing’ the movie served to blend the CGI and live action seamlessly.

The second thing Sky Captain has going for it is its ideas and their translation onto the big screen. There really is nothing new here: two types of giant robots, submersible airplanes, attack planes that flap their wings to fly, really big-a$$ flying airstrips, etc. But they’ve never looked better. All the ideas, all the machinery, everything is exceptionally well done. I never thought to myself, “Wow, that was cheesy”. Conran, the director, has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the props in this film and it shows. Also, there are a lot of homages to a bunch of different movies thrown in. John even spotted a THX-1138 reference, we think.

If there’s one thing keeping this movie from being great, its the characters. Sci Fi was running all three Indiana Jones movies today and it struck me how easily Spielberg created the loveable rogue of Indy while including all the action and adventure you could want (including Nazis!). Of course, Spielberg at that stage in his career was a more established director than Conran is now. I never really felt much of anything towards the main protagonists (Sky Captain and Polly) and their characters are pretty much two dimensional, although there is a hugh hint that they’ve been involved before. It seems that Conran was going for a Bogey/Bacall or Grant/Hepburn feel. Although there were moments where sparks tried to fly between Law and Paltrow, for the most part it seemed to me there wasn’t enough chemistry there, as if their chemisty is of the kitchen set variety. Another knock is the fact that Sir Lawrence Olivier ‘plays’ Totenkopf, the evil mastermind behind the robot scourge. I thought it clever the way Conran works him in at the end, but that’s the only time we see him. For the rest of the film, he’s used almost like an evil mcguffin. I would have preferred a truly evil villain to have a lot of screen time, with opportunities to act completely over-the-top as required by this type of film. A dissapointment in the end. The characterizations knock of 1 star.

Another half-point is knocked off for two things. The plot itself is nothing new. The situations the characters find themselves in aren’t vastly different from what we’ve seen before. And the story has a few places where things happen soley to advance the plot and to make way for the next action scene (not that the action isnt’ great, ’cause it is). One place in particular I had to say, “Oh, that’s convenient!”. Second, I found the music to be forgettable. I felt it was trying too hard to evoke the time period and the motifs needed for the action on the screen. And, to me, there was nothing catchy about it. I think John Williams should have had a crack at the score.

But for all of its faults, I never once looked at my watch to see what time it was. That’s a sure sign of good film for me! I recommend it to anyone with an interest in SF, pulp or otherwise. Just don’t expect it to live up to bar set by Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it comes within shouting distance.

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

5 Comments on Review – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

  1. I generally agree with your comments, JP. I rarely notice bad or inappropriate music, but I did in Sky Captain. The look, as you said, is top-notch and a surefire way to please the artsy-loving critics. And the washout effect didn?t annoy me as much as Minority Report?s blue acid-wash did (only on the big screen though ? it annoyed much less on the small screen).

    As to your beefs with the film (2D characters and derivative plot) ? I think that was the point of the movie. Sure, Conran could have devised some ingenious, never-before-seen plot (good-luck!) that Shyamalanned the viewers at the end, but in an homage to retro-sf he risked losing the appeal. And it was appealing. I found myself thinking about the movie long after I left the theater, liking it even better in reflection while considering the different ways that they could have, and thankfully hadn?t, taken the movie. It was exactly what I expected a retro-sf movie to be. Being a lover of classic sf, I found the movie extremely charming and very entertaining.

    I would rate the move a 4 out of 5.

  2. I know you meant to give it 3.5 stars and not 2.5, but I’d go more for 4 stars.

    It was a great looking film – I loved the washed-out look. The use of color was very limited – Paltrow’s lipstick, the British flag on the mobile airstrips and the Eden ship at the end. Curiously, there’s a scene in a movie theatre where they’re showing the Wizard of Oz – another film that used color in very interesting ways. If I had one complaint about the look of the movie it would be that I saw the same textures reused. Two examples were the broken windows in the hangar (some of the windows were broken in the same place) and the mobile airships had rust in the same places. Kind of sloppy, and you won’t notice it unless you’re looking for it.

    I enjoyed the banter between Paltrow and Law, and laughed out loud several times at their jabs at each other. I remember this because Austen and I practically had the theatre to ourselves (we went on a Monday night.)

    The ending was a little goofy, and there were some things that made me go “hmm…” (like when they got new clothes at the Tibetan monastary they just happened to be aviator military uniform and an American dress?)

    I rated the film on originality, how fun it was to watch and how few times I had to roll my eyes and think “Wow, how dumb do they think I am?”

    4 stars from me!

  3. I think the movie was a 4 for me as well. I think they were going for the campy approach in this film. I really enjoyed the movie and tried to portray some aspects of the technology with awe. I just felt it was a great ride, and if your looking for consistency this film was not the place to look. I am sure there are plenty of spots where we could find issues, but taken as a whole film – its quite good.

  4. Spoilers below.

    Loved it. I would give it five stars. The average scene was merely spectacular; the exceptional ones achieved the lucid, dreamlike quality of a Maxfield Parrish painting, or a drawing by Virgil Finlay.

    It was my more to my tastes than RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, because I found RAIDERS to contain hints of modern attitude, whereas SKYCAPTAIN was true to its period.

    I thought the Polly Perkins was perfect: bold-yet-feminine in a fashion I have not seen in a serial queen since the days of Nyoka the Jungle Girl. Refreshing to meet a heroine who, finding herself naked, asks the hero to turn his back.

    The flyboy hero could have stepped off the front cover of THRILLING AIR WONDER STORIES or G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES.

    Myself I liked the fact that the villain, in the end, turns out to be something like the “man behind the curtain” in WIZARD OF OZ. The clich? of Gernsbeckian scientifiction is that technology runs automatically, robotically, escaping from the control of the mad scientist who sets it in motion.

    As for the rest of it, well, someone in Hollywood said to himself, “Hmmm. Let’s make a film that has in it exactly the things John C. Wright likes.” “Sir? Should we include Zeppelins docking at the Empire State building, giant flying aircraft carriers, and an homage to the mechanical monsters from an early Max Fleisher SUPERMAN cartoon?” “Does Wright like ’em? Put them in.” “Heroes trapped in a radioactive mine?” “Does Wright like ’em? In they go.” “Mysterious oriental lost races? Dinosaurs! He like dinosaurs. Ninja robots!! Ornithopters! Do we have space to fit in a burrowing machine, or Godzilla?” “No room to stick that in, but make passing references.” “What about a hero who has a private army for hire? Cute RAF girls with English accents to die for? A GIANT SPACE ARK!” “Aw, hell, Jones, stick it all in. And I think we can do a better Lois Lane than the last eight SUPERMAN movies and TV shows, don’t you?” “Right-O, sir!”

    Now, if the producers of the film want my suggestion for a sequel, I would say SKYCAPTAIN AT THE EARTH’S CORE should be next, followed by SKYCAPTAIN VERSUS THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE!

  5. So maybe that’s what bugged me about the film, the characters. I loved all the retro-gee-whiz-future tech stuff. I really liked the robots, the ornithopter thingies, the zeps, the flying airstrips, and, of course, the giant rocket at the end. And you can’t beat ninja robots for serious butt-kicking fun. But Polly and Joe just didn’t do much for me, I just couldn’t get into their by-play. Although I did like the fact there was no modern day aspects to their relationship, no running of to bed every 5 seconds, etc., etc.

    But, like John, the movie has grown on me since I left the theater and after thinking about it some more. So I may kick it up half a star to 4, but the music and the characters will keep it at a 4 for me, but it will still find a welcome spot on my DVD shelf, if for no other reason than the ninja robot!

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