Sunday, August 21, 2011

Movie – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was originally intended to be a big summer movie in 2004.  To avoid bumping up against Spider-Man 2 it was moved to the end of September, where movies are sent to die (see also Serenity.)  It didn’t quite end up making back its budget, which was small for a summer movie, but large for a fall movie.  Based on this, some people consider it a flop.  I am not a studio head, so I could care less what the box office was for a movie.  I just care if it was entertaining and this one was.

Writer/Director Kerry Conran spent years on his computer making a six minute short of giant robots walking down the streets of New York City.  The right people finally saw this and agreed to give him the budget to make the rest of his story.  Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law both signed on after seeing the six minute short.  Angelina Jolie, Michael Gambon, and Giovanni Ribisi also appear in supporting roles.  Sir Laurence Olivier sort of appears in the movie.

The movie is set in 1939 and is designed to evoke both the sci-fi serials (i.e. Buck Rogers) and the screwball comedies (i.e. His Girl Friday) that were popular at the time.  The design of much of the movie is also influenced by the Art Deco movement.  The impression it leaves is that this is the kind of movie that would have been made in the late 1930s if the studios had the technology and the money to do so.  The result is a delight for people who like movies from that period.  Unfortunately, people not familiar with those kinds of movies probably felt that Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was just weird.  In fact, I know a couple people who didn’t watch the movie purely because they felt the title was weird.

The movie’s two leads are archetypes from the period.  Sky Captain (Jude Law) is the square-jawed fighter pilot hero who is always asked to save the day.  Polly Perkins is the plucky “girl reporter” who has a past with him.  The supporting characters are also familiar.  Jolie plays the tough as nails military leader, complete with eye patch.  Ribisi is the egghead assistant to Sky Captain.  Olivier (actually his image) plays the mad scientist.

The movie opens with the same scene Conran had made on his computer – giant robots are walking down the streets of New York City.  Polly Perkins is on her way to cover the story.  The city calls in Sky Captain, using a massive radio tower that evokes the RKO Radio Pictures opening from movies of the time.  He manages to stop some of them, but not before the robots make off with a huge generator.

He and Polly reluctantly join forces to figure out where the robots came from and what is going on.  Their quest leads them around the globe, trading verbal barbs left and right.  The last time he saw her she had left him behind in China at the mercy of some warlords.  She says she did it because she knows he was romancing another woman, which he denies.  Just like in many movies of the period it’s obvious to the viewer that the two are in love with each other and that the banter is just foreplay.

Don’t look for historical accuracy (i.e. the Depression, Germany gearing up for World War II, etc.)  I mean, the movie actually opens with a zeppelin docking at the top of the Empire State Building.  Trivia – the top of the building was actually intended to be used for this, but reality intruded.  No one wanted to transfer from a zeppelin to the building more than a thousand feet above the street.  At one point you get a glimpse of King Kong on the side of the same building.  It is in the far background when Sky Captain is battling the robots in the opening.

While I would not call the movie a comedy, it has many funny moments in it, most of them exchanges between Polly and Sky Captain.  The very last line of the movie had me laughing for a couple of minutes after the credits started rolling.

The look of the film is very much a result of how it was shot.  Sin City is often cited as the first movie to shoot with live actors on a virtual set.  Sky Captain did the same thing and it came out a year before Sin City did.  Sometimes it’s obvious, like when Polly is running among the feet of the robots, but most of the time it works quite well.

If you like those kinds of genre movies of the 1930s then I would say you should definitely see this movie.  If you are just looking for a fun time at the movies then check this out.  It is highly recommended.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. you really know people who don't watch movies because titles sound weird?

    i love that trivia. you make me want to watch this film again too!

  2. In my review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I mentioned that the "weird name" was the number one reason I couldn't get people to watch the show.

    There's a reason why there are so many generic movie titles like Hard to Kill and Extreme Measures.

  3. the show or the movie?
    i wasn't much of a fan of either but the name is perfect. it tells you everything.
    buffy = cheerleader type
    vampire slayer = revealing clothing whilst she fights off the undead.

  4. The show. I don't recommend the movie.

    I can tell I liked the show a lot more than you.

    I go into why Whedon kept the title, and why he disowned the movie in this post: