Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow may just be the most underrated movie of this millennium.  Made on an entirely green-screened soundstage, Sky Captain showed moviegoers of 2004 something they had never seen before; something they were obviously unready for.  Though it only made back 58 of its 70 million dollar budget, nowadays, it is appreciated for its inspirational capabilities, seeing as such critically acclaimed movies as 300 and Sin City are said to have been inspired by it.

Sky Captain is an excellently constructed movie, boasting an all-star cast.  Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law star, but the movie is also graced by the likes of Giovanni Ribisi and Angelina Jolie.  The acting in this movie is of a gem-like quality that I’ve never seen anywhere else.  The actors do not imitate the mannerisms of a historical time period, but the acting norms of the era.  Paltrow plays Polly Perkins — the damsel in distress — with a dutiful determination (playing a stereotypical reporter; a la Lois Lane), and Law’s Sky Captain is a familiarly archetypal hardened hero, adeptly negotiating any and all obstacles and adverse situations that present themselves throughout the film.  This acting caught a lot of flak in ’04; William Thomas of Empire magazine even labelled it wooden.  However, if one understands the intent of these acting decisions, they are highly appreciable.

The visual style is another element that sets the movie apart.  As aforementioned, the actors perform on a completely CGI backdrop.  The light and shadows benefit from this, as they are manipulated to an unrealistic degree.  Captain Joe Sullivan’s New York Office is dark as can be, while the lights of the Radio City music hall are radiant beyond compare.  This stylization lends the movie an imaginative quality that reinforces the feeling of a childhood fantasy being played out.  Computer generated landscapes have disappointed audiences before (a rather notorious instance from 1999 comes to mind) but director Kerry Conran never suggests that what the audience sees should be seen as reality; it simply looks unreal because that is exactly what it is supposed to be.

At the beginning of the movie, a robot army invades New York City.  Unable to stop it, the citizenry calls upon the services of Sky Captain.  A radio signal emanates from the tower, sending a distress call, but also symbolizing a call to adventure for the viewer.  The movie oozes a sort of juvenile glee in all of its scenes, boasting an adventurous innocence as Joe and Polly embark on their heroic journey.  Numerous air combat sequences are gifted to the viewer, thrilling them with their speed.  The best one technically isn’t even in the air, but is more of a submersible dogfight.  The propellers on the planes slide backwards, and now push the vehicles through water rather than sky.

This entire film is quite literally something out of a kid’s playtime.  Complete with a madcap plan to destroy the world as we know it, unbridled heroism, and a deceptively resourceful love interest, Sky Captain very obviously comes from the mind of a man who grew up on 1940s adventure like Flash Gordon, Zorro, and Errol Flynn features.  The picture is just as much of a love letter to those franchises of old as it is a transmutation of an era’s cinema into an all new product.  I enjoy Sky Captain for the same reason that I love Star Wars; the vision and influences of the creator could not be any more visible.  Sadly, the latter film has met with considerably lower degrees of success, but It will live on through its established “Cult Following”.  Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is equal parts blast to the past, and flight into the future.  This film is true “pulp fiction”.


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