Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
(Release Date: September 17, 2004)


The "Future" never looked so Cool!
Kiiiick Ass, You Guys!

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

Who couldn't love that Retro-Futuristic Ray-Gun subgenre of Science Fiction? From Burroughs' John Carter Novels to Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the impossible and incredibly fun action of the time that never was brings Granny Macek's Best Boy back into his 10th year, and pastes a mile-wide grin on the old puss! In the 1940's an Art Deco vision of the Future seemed to be at the front of a lot of art and literature, and the stylized lines and hopeful fonts were as ubiquitous as beautiful women in business suits and fedoras. From Superman's battles with Mechanical Monsters in Max Fleischer's excellent Paramount cartoons to the Buck Rogers and Captain Marvel serials, what could be cooler than these thrills and chills and daring do with lots of great adventure too?

Of course, a lot of these visions of the future, so influenced by the 1939 - 1940 New York World's Fair proved to be impractical, if not impossible.

That's the beauty of Writer/ Director Kerry Conran's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It's planed firmly in the pulpy fiction of the 40's art deco Science Fiction Serials like King of the Rocket Men and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Is any of the Science in this movie realistic or even plausible? No, and it's not intended to be. It's a fun Serial-Inspired Action Flick with killer visuals and a smile a second. you have to buy in to the point of view that this is the future as imagined in the 1940's and can no more be nitpicked than Indiana Gosh Darned Jones, Sparky! The archetypes, impossible scenarios, and technology we still don't have all combine to make this more fun than a Globe Trotters Game and remind us of a somewhat simpler and more innocent style of movie making, thought long gone.

Which is ironic because there's more post-modern CGI technology in this film's 107 Minutes than in all the Shrek and Toy Story movies put together. Yep, with its mixture of Computer Animation and Live Actors, this is little more than Roger Rabbit for the Sci-Fi set. And it works! Aside from any film-making morality concerning weather or not Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is really "film-making" (the whole thing was shot against green screens for CGI Shots to be added later), the film looks and feels like fun, and you forget you're watching a cartoon after a very short time.

"Sky Captain" Joe Sullivan (Jude Law)is the archetypal Pulp Hero, handsome and tough with Action in his veins. When New York becomes the latest city to be attacked by armed Ornithopters and Giant Claw-Wielding Robots that Fly, Sky Captain arrives on the scene in his versatile prop plane (more tricks than the Batmobile) and kicks more metal ass before breakfast than most pulp heroes get to kick all day. He also gets to save the life of our archetypal corn-silk-haired Heroine, No-Nonsense-Newspaper Reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow putting on her best Lois Lane)! Together they travel to all four corners of the globe, high into the sky, and down into the depths of the sea, from New York to Shangri-La, tracking down the big bad nasty supervillain Dr. Totenkopf (the computer-animated visage of a youthful Laurence Olivier... not kidding) and his world-ending agenda!

But they're not alone, and side-kicks and allies galore join the club! From Michael Gambon as the Perry White-ish Editor Morris Paley to Omid Djalili as the sidekick/ guide Kaji, all of the bases are covered. Somewhere along the line Giovanni Ribisi became an actor we want to see. His nerdy, yet affable, scientist (and friend of Sky Captain) Dex Dearborn shows that his range is growing. Naturally it was Angelina Jolie's Captain Franky Cook that Michelle and I went to see. Even with the eye-patch she's incredibly hot and capable. Bai Ling's Mysterious Woman almost reclaims the hotness prize from Jolie here as her assassin-cum-conqueror practically steals the show.

Conran's script evokes some of the best of the Serial and Pulp stylings that inspired it. Like Star Wars before it, Sky Captain feels like one episode in a longer whole, yet still manages to succeed in developing characters after their introductions. In short, it feels complete.

And after a time, it no longer feels like you're watching actors matted in with a computer cartoon. Suspension of disbelief is required, of course, but the over-lit faces and murky blacks, whites and grays all give way to an unlikely spectrum. The colors feel almost Ted-Turner-colorized, which adds to the conception that you're watching an older film. The animation is likewise classic (though almost realistic here) and balances the fine line between 2-D classicism and post-Phantom Menace innovation. Just when you're fooled into believing you're seen a set that was never built, you're reminded again that you're seeing a cartoon... and that's the point. It's a great balance to say the least! Once in a while, Conran basks in the beauty of the world he's helped to create, feeling as cool as the producers of The Chronicles of Riddick or something, but such self-congratulatory moments are used sparingly, thankfully! To be fair, Dino De Laurentiis is credited here as "visual effects associate producer", so... that might... explain a lot. But then again, the digital effects house of none other than Stan Winston was also on board. Balance!

No film is perfect and here the issues are mostly in the beholder's eye. The action and technology are impossible as a Gore election, and that might turn off a few nit-picking viewers. The occasional hokey-line or machismo moment are explained away by the fact that this is intended to feel like a '40's movie. Some might take issue with the (intentional) seems in the animation and live acting blend, but hell, it's better than Spider Man 2! Here's the thing... it's written like a classic 40's Science Fiction film. There's little sexual innuendo, no profanity to speak of, no surprise twist ending and no insulting backstabbing. It's a classic... and... it's a classic!

Mad props have to go to both producer Jon Avnet, who saw a short animated film by a young Kerry Conran and made it happen, and to Jude Law (who also produced) who made sure it made it to the screen intact and with some star-power. Even in Hollywood, once in a while a dedicated group can bring a project they believe in to the screen. No sets to speak of were built and no "Special Effects" in the traditional sense were paid for. But the film still wasn't cheap, and such an attempt was indeed a risk for all the folks involved. Let's hope it makes it because this 30-year-old feels like he's ten again. Who could resist?

Pulp Serial or Modern Thriller, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a rip roaring and fun ride that actually has some brains! Four and One Half Stars out of Five for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow... and that's a lot! Who knew this would be this good? Now if only someone could film Jolie and Ling wrestling in the sequel, I'd be the happiest critter this side of Sand Beach Bayou! But until this happens, I'm back to the theatre! See you in the next reel, you animated Robot you!

Man, I want to fight some Giant Robots, dude!
But I'll read some new Reviews First!

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who alone is responsible for his views and his more than complete collection of Max Fleisher Superman Cartoons!
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Ah, late thirties sex.
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