September 23, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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This film is almost entirely fake. It”s a bizarre notion, when you think of it. I mean, when most of us think of how movies are made, we think of sound stages in Hollywood full of elaborate sets peopled by actors and crews. When you see a stunt in a movie, like a car flying over a gap in the road or something, you wonder just how they rigged the stunt and how much that car was worth. But when you enter the realm of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, all of those thought processes must be set aside. When you look at a scene consisting of Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) running out from under the feet of gigantean robots bent on destruction, you might indeed think it looks unbelievably real. But actually, it”s just the result of Paltrow running around in front of a green screen and the techno-wizards who filled in the background.

You see, the special effects are so unbelievably well done that you don”t even realize that they”re special effects. Not once during the course of the movie did I stop and think, wow, it”s pretty cool that this whole movie is fake. Rather, I was completely sucked in by the seductiveness of the Sky Captain world. I couldn”t fight it, and I didn”t want to fight it. I let the retro-cool realm of Sky Captain wash over me and transport me to a time I”ve only read about: when women wore pantyhose, men had nicknames like ‘Dex,’ and the imagination is not even close to the limit of reality. In fact, forget limits altogether, there is no such thing as the impossible here.

While the movie itself is stunning, the storyline is simple and easy to follow: crazy genius has a doomsday device and our favorite star-crossed heroes have to find a way to stop him. As mentioned above, we have intrepid reporter Polly Perkins, never without her trusty camera, (or lipstick, apparently). To round out the couple there is Joe ‘Sky Captain’ Sullivan (Jude Law), a scrappy fighter pilot mercenary who is the best at, well, being a scrappy fighter pilot. When giant machine robots attack Gotham City, what do the overwhelmed coppers do? Call in the Sky Captain!

This is an adventure story, through and through, the kind that made you want to be an archaeologist because Indiana Jones was the coolest guy in the world. It”s true that much of the film owes inspiration to many other movies. Perhaps the only medium Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow owes more to is comic books. As an added homage, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), a genius inventor working with Sky Captain, takes much of his inspiration from the comic books he reads.

Of course, as an adventure story, there are a certain amount of sacrifices for the sake of plot development that seem to be made in the dialogue. While it”s true that this film isn”t going to win an Oscar for its script, we have to keep in mind the type of film this is: a gritty adventure story with a strong dose of melodrama mixed in for balance. You couldn”t have Sky Captain and Polly Perkins discussing the end of the world in anything less than pulped-up, machine-gun rapid, 25