A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 240 – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – October 26th, 2010

The only excuse I can come up with for not having seen this before is that until this project, I wasn’t making time in my days to watch movies and I’d never come across it on television. It has a few actors I really enjoy watching (Jude Law and Angelina Jolie) and the mood is this great mix of noir ambiance, adventure serial and steampunk timeline. Oh, and it’s got Bai Ling. How could I resist? And yet I’d never seen it. I’d only heard the title and heard the Futurama “Welcome to the WOOOOOOOOORLD of TOMORROW!” line in my head and never bothered to put it in. So very foolish of me.

According to IMDB, it was, at one point, envisioned as a serial, in the vein of Commando Cody and Undersea Kingdom, which makes perfect sense to me, since my first reaction to Sky Captain himself was to think of Commando Cody. Fortunately for Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan, he doesn’t have to tweak his nipple knobs to take to the sky. No, he gets a good old airplane to zip around in. There is a jet pack in the movie, but a more awesome character gets it. Everything about this movie is homage to the classic adventure serials and movies and comics of the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. It’s got giant robots (some with awesome tentacle arms), an island full of dinosaurs, a mad scientist, a rocket that will incinerate Earth, a plucky and brash reporter and a dashing and brusque pilot, a genius sidekick and a mysterious villain! It’s got explosions and daring chases and evil plots that stretch around the world. It is everything a pulpy serial could ever want, filmed entirely in bluescreen and starring some big name actors.

Now, I mentioned noir above and the movie certainly has a noir-ish feel to it. Part of it is the overall lighting effects and visual style of the movie, as well as the time period. But it’s also got its opening scenes, with a mysterious package being delivered to reporter Polly Perkins. Her whole introduction feels like something out of a murder mystery smack in the middle of the 1940s, except soon enough there are giant robots in the streets of New York and Sky Captain himself is introduced in his plane, shooting the robots and seemingly saving the day. Hooray Sky Captain! Of course it turns out that Polly and Joe have some history together and of course they need each other to discover what’s been going on with the giant robots and seven missing scientists. So off they go, racing to Nepal to save their mechanical genius friend, Dex, who’s been kidnapped by the robots and taken off to the source of robots’ commanding signal. Adventures abound, as does snarky banter between Polly and Joe.

To be honest, I could have done with a little less period-authentic attitude from Joe. I want to like my heroes, not spend more than a handful of moments in the movie wanting to slap him for being an ass. And Polly’s fine much of the time, but she had her moments too. Really, they deserve each other. Good thing there’s more to like about them than dislike. Polly’s stubborn and certainly brave, if not always thinking ahead about what her bravery will do. Joe’s very good at what he does, which is flying mostly, but also being a hero, which is kind of the point. But they both come across as the sort of people who get into trouble and then get out of it through their own determination and wits. I like that sort of thing in a character (or two). So I can forgive the misogyny, or at least cheer when a certain crack pilot gets punched later on.

After reading that there’d been at least some thought about making this a serial, I started paying attention to it that way and I can see it. There are some episodic bits, going from place to place, plot point to plot point, crisis to crisis. But really, it all flows very nicely. It feels cohesive, and has a great overarching plot that ties everything together. No, it’s not anything astounding that will make you gasp or surprise you in any way, but that’s not the point. Going into this, you’re supposed to expect the mad scientist planning on destroying Earth. That’s a given. Very little here is shocking at all. But fun? Oh yes. The huge flying airstrips (where we meet Angelina Jolie’s Franky), the tentacle-armed robots, the tiny elephant? All fun. Same for the plot and the script. It’s the sort of movie that makes you grin because it’s so obviously in love with its source material and thrilled to be presenting it in a new light.

Given how this movie was made, with the blue screen work and all, and its main cast of known names, mixed with its odd modern take on classic serials, I’m not surprised that it’s slipped through the cracks for some people. It’s really too bad. I’d love to see a sequel, to be honest. But I’m guessing a sequel to this is as likely as a sequel to Buckaroo Banzai. Still, wouldn’t Sky Captain Against the World Crime League be a fantastic idea?

October 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

October 26, 2010

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

The closing credits of yesterday’s movie, which depicted the continuing adventures of Steamboy, reminded me very much in mood and feel of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I’ve loved this movie since before I even saw it. I remember reading articles in Entertainment Weekly about how writer/director Kerry Conran started the project as a demo reel produced entirely on his home computer using publicly available computer design software. How his visuals captured the imagination of Hollywood producers and actors and how it made its way to the big screen. I love the idea of big adventure films made on an independent film budget. It gives me hope that some really wonderful and experimental movies that are nonetheless epic in scope could see the light of day.

This film itself, however, is not revolutionary. It is a loving homage to every cheesy thirties serial adventure and pulp science fiction magazine cover ever. The film geek in me was squeeling in joy almost through the entire movie. The iconic pointing fingers and flying robots attacking the city of New York come directly from the classic Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. The ray gun that Joe’s plucky gadget-friendly sidekick Dex toys with has a decidedly Flash Gordon feel to it. Every one of the robotic minions that plague Sky Captain look as though they come right off the front of Amazing Stories. Sky Captain himself reminds me of nothing so much as the brave scientist/adventurer Commando Cody.

Sky Captain is an elite English pilot who is sort of Batman but with a WWII P-40 instead of a Batplane. He has gadgets a plenty for his plane provided by gearhead and comic book fan Dex. When giant robots threaten New York City in 1939 the call for help immediately goes out to Sky Captain – the only man who can possibly save us! Accompanied by the hard-nosed Polly Perkins, a tenacious reporter who will not let go once she senses that there’s a story to be had, Joe must unravel the mystery of seven missing German scientists and attacks from giant robots that have happened all over the globe.

This movie is pure 1930s pulp fiction from beginning to end. It has exciting globe trotting (they follow the radio signals that drive the robots to Nepal.) It has fantastic technology (submersible planes and flying aircraft carriers (SHIELD anyone?) It has a brash hero in a leather jacket and a strong willed dame who trades quips with him throughout the entire adventure. The “other woman” is a completely badass female Nick Fury named Frankie who not only has an entire squadron of submersible planes at her command but has a jet pack. Played by Angelina Jolie no less. Dinosaurs! Robots! Tesla coils! And an ending that smacks of Moonraker.

There are very few actors here, and all of the extras were shot alone on green screen sets. Virtually nothing you see on the screen actually existed (with a couple exceptions.) It is entirely a digital creation, which works just fine for the film this wants to be. I must say that I was particularly impressed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s ability to act surrounded by nothing. She takes a whole lot of very corny dialog and manages to bring it to life somehow. Mostly just with a little smirk. Jude Law is fun as the eponymous Sky Captain; rakishly handsome and slightly misogynistic in a sort of 1930s way. And of course Angelina Jolie makes a fantastic Nick Fury – I would recommend her for the role if it weren’t already so well filled.

I loved every minute of this movie. It’s a fun romp and deliberately anachronistic. Funny that so much modern computer technology should be used to re-create such an ancient feel. In a strange coincidence I see that the trivia for this movie lists four other mostly-digital films done on green-screen stages in the same way. This, Sin City, Casshern, and Immortal. Wouldn’t you know that we own them all? I love our movie collection.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment