Saturday, January 22, 2005

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Directed by Kerry Conran
2004, rated PG
4 stars

Computer Generated Images (CGI) are fairly commonplace in movies now. Aliens, scenery, and even stunts are now created completely on computers. Gone are the days when Jackie Chan actually jumped off buildings to fall three stories down onto a tiny balcony across the ally way. Now audiences must content themselves with watching a computer-generated Toby Maguire swing himself around a digital New York City on a pixilated web. Sometimes it’s easy to spot which scenes in movies are digitally imposed, and which are real, and usually if it is this easy to tell, it means that those generated images appear false, and can disrupt the flow of a film. But what if everything you see—the scenery, the props, everything—is computer generated? How does one react to a film where literally everything except for the few main actors has been produced by a computer? Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, directed by newcomer Kerry Conran, is the film to address these pressing issues.

This entire film was created on a computer, based on a six minute clip and a storyline created by Conran. The actors were then filmed against a gigantic blue screen, and given very few props to work with. This in itself might explain why the acting is a little dead at times. There aren’t many characters, but the few that exist are played by recognizable Hollywood names. Gwyneth Paltrow takes the female lead as the investigative journalist Polly Perkins; Jude Law plays beside her as the dashing Joe ‘Sky Captain’ Sullivan; Giovanni Ribisi and Angelina Jolie both carry the minor roles, as a geeky mechanic and daring captain, respectively. Even Sir Laurence Olivier makes an appearance as the maniacal doctor genius who plots the destruction of Earth. While the cast may be dazzlingly star-studded, however, the actors at times seem out of their elements. Paltrow, especially, falters in her imaginary world, and seems to require something a little more concrete than the debonair gaze of Jude Law.

Jumbled acting aside, the actual mechanics and visual effects of the film are fun to watch. It begins with the interesting lighting employed throughout the film, a very film noir effect. At times it seems as if the film should be in black and white—it’s an interesting feat to make color appear colorless. This film noir overtone is rather heavy handed in the first part of the film, and shows in both the acting and the surroundings. Conran then seems to jump from movie to movie, almost resembling “Name That Tune,” except with movie titles. Besides the obvious film noir allusion, Godzilla, Indiana Jones, Wizard of Oz, and even Jurassic Park, to name a few, make appearances in one way or another. Fans of Japanese anime will recognize the nod to Metropolis as well. Even the music seems borrowed, sounding most like a John Williams copy, overly dramatic and ostentatious. Still, it’s fun to watch and identify parts from old favorites, and in one sense Sky Captain is like a compilation of the best parts from the best action movies. Amongst these not-so-subtle hints of other movies, however, also lie not-so-subtle gaps in the fabric of the film itself. While the CGI scenery, for example, is stunning at times, it appears that the climate changes from location to location are too much for the actors to keep up with, as they can appear absolutely freezing in sunny New York City, but warm and toasty in the howling winds of snowy Siberia. Similarly, the evil giant robots, complete with eye-lasers, that attack New York are delightfully constructed, but then one has to wonder at the amazing technology gap that allowed the enemy to develop these ten-story-high fighting machines while the good guys appear to still be stuck using the simple ruler and compass. And as our heroes struggle with these antiquated tools, their base is being attacked by what appear at first to be flying toasters, which proceed to wreak havoc and terrify the daylights out of all the little computer-generated people.

Despite these apparent holes and minor acting flaws, the movie is rather enjoyable as a fun, non-serious action flick. While for some audiences the gaps and faults may be too much to overcome, others may find the way the movie was made interesting enough to hold the film together. Look there, in the sky! Is it a bird? A plane? No! It’s a… flying toaster?


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