Film/TV » Film Features

Down to Earth

Sky Captain is beautifully boring.


A few weeks ago, I reported on the virtues and vices of M. Night Shyamalan s The Village, and while I was impressed by its glorious production design, I was disgruntled by what I felt was, essentially, a hollow film. This week I offer my thoughts on another beautiful and hollow film: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. But this one comes by its hollowness more honestly and thus is more enjoyable.
Picture it: 1939. In a world seemingly free of Nazi peril, another menace looms: the evil scientist Dr. Totenkopf and his army of giant, flying robots! Our spunky Gotham news hound Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) wants the scoop, and she ll dodge giant feet, death rays, and bullets to get it! Just when it looks like her number is up, Sky Captain (Jude Law) zooms in and saves the day! But they have a past, these two! Yes, they were a couple once, but Polly may or may not have sabotaged Sky Captain s plane, and Sky Captain may or may not have catted around on Polly! Regardless, it s been a couple of years since they last saw each other, and neither is too thrilled about needing the other to stop Dr. Totenkopf! But where is he? And what does he want? Fuel! And generators! And machine-y things! Bwah-ha-ha-ha! How can he be stopped? Nobody knows! Except for SKY CAPTAIN! And his sidekick, Dex! Played by Giovanni Ribisi! And then there s Angelina Jolie! Yaaaaaay!!!
Okay, now I m tired of using exclamation points. I guess I m trying to add a little zip to my description of a potentially thrilling plot that is unthrillingly executed. The impending end of the world, giant death-ray robots, dirigibles all exciting stuff. And the whole concept is modeled after vintage science-fiction comic books and the whiz-bang movie serials of the 1930s when everything had an exclamation point. (Will Rocket Man get out of this one, kids? Stay tuned!)
Back to the plot. A note arrives on the desk of ace reporter Polly, instructing her to meet the note s scribe at Radio City Music Hall (now playing: The Wizard of Oz). A mysterious old man cautions Polly that trouble is afoot and that he is the last in a string of scientists who have been disappearing. The End is Near. He disappears just as an air-raid siren evacuates the theater. But it s not airplanes that are swarming over Gotham City. It s giant robots, here to steal the city s generators. But why? Toward what nefarious end? When Sky Captain arrives, it s clear that he has the brawn and Polly has the brains for the mission and only the two of them can figure out who this Dr. Totenkopf is and stop whatever Doomsday plot he s working on. Along the way, though, they need a little help from Sky Cap s friends, techno-wizard Dex and the sultry and sergeant-y Franky (Jolie) who commands a flying sky fortress for the Brits. Together, they dodge the aforementioned giant robots, some mid-sized robots, some small robots, some bulky aquatic robots, and one sexy lady robot.
The positive: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is an astonishing technical feat. Only the actors are real. The sets, the backgrounds, the robots are all computer-generated. The actors filmed all of their work against a blue screen, and the rest was conjured by, if I may borrow a metaphor, the man behind the curtain. The film is gorgeous to look at, and while sometimes it s obvious that what you re looking at is computer-generated, that in no way diminishes the beauty of some of the landscapes and compositions that first-time director Kerry Conran has cooked up. The art direction is spot-on as homage to its influences Fritz Lang s Metropolis, all those Rocket Man-type heroes from the 30s, and lots of comic books.
The negative: boooooring! Director Conran is obviously more at home behind a computer than working with actors. Oscar-winners Paltrow and Jolie and Oscar-deserver Law take a backseat to special effects. There s little onscreen chemistry, and the dialogue is wooden. There is a bonus, however, in the reveal of Dr. Totenkopf, thanks to the FX wizards.
Final verdict: Oh Captain, you sure are pretty to look at, but I wish you were a little smarter. n

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