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Culture Reviews
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow /By Kerry Conran/
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is a fresh and exciting new adventure – one inspired from the distillation of images and emotions of pop culture past, and presented to us through the use of modern technology. Depending on the age group of the viewer, this movie is one that will evoke feelings of wonder, enjoyment, and nostalgia. Experiencing all three emotions, I found myself eagerly awaiting what lay next, with the heroes setting forth to different destinations in pursuit of adventure.

Set in a stylized world of the 30’s or 40’s, the movie begins with newspaper reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), being summoned to Manhattan to investigate the strange disappearance of scientists all over the world. She soon finds the city under siege by giant flying mechanical robots, and a distress signal is sent to Sky Captain (Jude Law), one of the last defenders of the free world. Needless to say, he arrives just in time to save the day. It is soon revealed that Polly and Sky Captain (or “Joe” as she calls him) had something of a past. This tenuous relationship and common desire to solve the mystery is what fuels the rest of the story, having them gallivanting from place to place, meeting interesting characters along the way.

One such character is Franky (Angelina Jolie), the commander of a flying fortress and Joe’s ex-flame. Another is Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), Joe’s chief of technology and confidant; if Joe were James Bond, then Dex would be Q. They also run into a mysterious lady in black (Bai Ling), a martial arts expert with the ability to control the giant robots. This fantastical potpourri is incomplete, however, as it also has a mad scientist bent on taking over the world in Dr. Totemkopf. It is with this last bit that the filmmakers push the technological envelope, as the mad doctor himself is played by Sir Laurence Olivier – who died in 1989 – using old film footage.

The posthumous performance of Olivier definitely brings about the eerie feeling of nostalgia, but the cast is admirably able to pull off this feeling themselves, seemingly having immersed into other legendary performers of Olivier’s stock. Law is perfect as the swashbuckling Sky Captain, an Errol Flynn / Clark Cable composite sans moustache. Equally endearing is Paltrow, whose moxie and quirkiness reminds me of Katharine Hepburn. As per any fantasy, the other characters seem to be from another era, equally engaging amidst this world of flying fortresses and amphibious airplanes.

This stunning vision was an obvious labour of love from first-time director Kerry Conran, who arguably created this motion picture single-handedly. Having worked for years on his Mac to develop much of the CGI-stylized backgrounds, his original 6-minute demo became the basis for such a ground-breaking cinematic achievement. This could be quite an inspirational story for aspiring filmmakers, as we witness a vision that is the work of a true artist – one that is unadulterated by marketing gimmicks and product placements.

There’s a blurry sepia-tone feel to Conran’s CGI cinematography, one that blends well with rich colour and shade. He gets away with a lot of these golden-age filmmaking images, complete with radio signals that communicate with expanding concentric circles. I couldn’t help but chuckle whenever Sky Captain’s plane was in the air, flying over animated maps with compasses pointed North. The Shangri-La from my youth watching “Lost Horizon” also made a brief appearance, a 10-minute tease that was enough to let my imagination run wild.

However, despite all its cinematic qualities, the problem with this movie is simple: it is a tease. The movie has been compared to Indiana Jones, but whereas the Indy movies were standalones, this one functions more like an introduction. The characters are immediately endearing, but not enough back story or dialogue is provided to flesh them out. Despite the numerous fantastical settings, the characters never seemed to act any different. Compare this to Spielberg, whose repertoire always included a character-in-wonder scene… Remember “Jurassic Park”, where the tourists first see real-life dinosaurs? It’s a shame that none such moment exists in this film.

Despite this, what “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” lacks in drama and character development, it somewhat makes up for with pure cinematic exuberance and adventure. Dragging a wee bit in the beginning, it feels like a roller coaster just about to cross the high-hump for a deep drop. In all, it was a great first effort from Kerry Conran. The amount of CGI used probably rivals another movie in “Final Fantasy”, but unlike it, he takes this technology and uses it to fuel his vision and deliver pure fun. After watching this movie, I wished I could learn more about the fate of Joe, Polly, and the rest of this world of tomorrow. I guess I’ll have to wait for Sky Captain-2!

17.10.04
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