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Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Grade: C
Written and Directed By: Kerry Conran
Starring: Jude Law Gwyneth Paltrow Angelina Jolie Giovanni Ribisi
Studio: Paramount

Most of the time, technical innovation comes at a price. Most of the time, the movies that show us things we’ve never seen before (or show us old things in new ways) become so concerned with the “hows” of what they’re trying to accomplish that they lose track of the “whats” or, even more frequently, the “whos.” Sadly, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is no exception, a movie that looks absolutely fantastic but ultimately doesn’t succeed in making us care about the fantastic things we’re looking at.

Much has been made about the fact that director Kerry Conran shot Sky Captain entirely against green screens, that all of the sets were entirely virtual, constructed on computers and composited with the actors later. That kind of process surely made the movie far less expensive to produce and must allow the moviemakers an enormous amount of latitude to tell as large a story as they want, knowing they’re unfettered by location costs. And the movie is undeniably gorgeous–the production design, by Conran’s brother Kevin Conran, maintains the feel of moveis of the 1930s while modernizing the look at the same time. But this movie goes so much for big that it doesn’t pay very much attention to the small and the end product suffers for it.

All of the characters in the movie are 30′s-era Hollywood cliches, which makes sense given that Sky Captain is an update of 30′s-era adventure films. But even so, modern audiences still demand at least a little more complexity to our heroes and villains. Neither of the two lead characters, ace aviator Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) or reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), does a single thing that’s not exactly what you would expect characters of those types to do in those types of situations. And we don’t get any real sense of any of the supporting characters, wasting the talents of actors like Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Gambon.

Law fits the role of Sky Captain perfectly: he has the swagger and old-school matinee-idol good looks to be able to slip into Sullivan’s bomber jacker easily. But Law is capable of much more than this movie allows him to be. At least he looks like he’s having fun, however; Paltrow looks terminally uncomfortable, as if she’d rather be making any movie other than the one she’s in. You can practically see her eyes crying out “Dammit, I’m a real actress! What am I doing in front of this green screen? Where’s my corset?” Jolie and Ribisi both seem game enough but neither is really given anything to do–neither has more than fifteen minutes of screen time.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is just the latest entry in the long line of movies for which the technology and the look of the end product takes precedence over the story itself. There’s no emotional center here, nothing in the characters to latch onto–we only have those incredible visuals. And while it’s really not fair for me to compare everything to The Incredibles, I have to point out that that movie balanced some truly astounding technological wizardy with an astoudingly human story and characters. In the end, Sky Captain is not truly a bad movie; more than anything else, it just feels like a missed opportunity.

Written by Allen

February 4th, 2005 at 3:55 pm

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