Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) Movie Review

(Movie Review by Bill Paterson) Hey, folks use computers to simulate lots of aspects of real life — sex, gambling, and all that important stuff. So, what the hell, why not fabricate the backdrop of an entire movie? That’s exactly what director Kerry Conran has done with “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”

This is the first movie I saw after “Open Water” — and what a pair of bookends these two make. “Water” is entirely devoid of effects, using the rudimentary filmmaking technique of a single camera capturing what transpires exactly as is. “Sky Captain” is from the bizarro world, where every cloud, building and plane is created using CGI. It’s all just a figment of some ridiculously sophisticated program’s imagination.

The film is a 40s-style affair, a nod to those fabled Saturday matinee sci-fi nerve-rattlers that my generation missed out on. It’s got the requisite dashing hero (Jude Law (“Enemy at the Gates”) who I normally find to be about as compelling as a box of vanilla wafers, but who is well-cast here) and of course there’s the spunky blond love interest (Gwyneth Paltrow, who looks much more at home in this period piece than she did in her “Shallow Hal” fat suit). Plus there’s Angelina Jolie (“Taking Lives”), who appears to have just walked off the set of a pirate porno.

Our heroes do battle with some raging robots invading The Big Apple — the worst such descent of automatons on New York since the Republican National Convention. With the deluge of crappy movies based on actual comic books being churned out, “Sky Captain” is a welcome relief for the genre. It has a fantasy appeal that could lead to some reverse engineering — where a comic book ends up being based on a film.

Considering the guy is a computer geek of epic proportions, it is more than a little refreshing to see how deftly Conran handles the actors. Granted, these are Oscar-pedigreed pros, but each of them has made more than a few stinkers in their time. But Conran elicits very real performances out of them, and also adds some nice little touches that allow you to forget that the actors were staring at a blue screen most of the time. It’s got all the throwaway comic relief lines, aw-shucks romance, and fantastical adventure you’d want in this kind of film.

Now, Conran spent the better part of the last decade and a half bringing this idea to life. A few years back he managed to render a couple minutes of footage of his completely computer generated world. Once it made the rounds in Hollywood, it became a hot property. That’s fortunate for him, because otherwise he’d no doubt be living in his parents’ basement trying to figure out how to make a computer realistic girlfriend.

Obviously, the debate will rage as to whether this is apocalyptic for the movie industry, or a gateway to new frontiers. As long as story always comes first, I say Godspeed to Conran and his ilk and their use of technology to tell stories when reality just won’t cooperate.

Kerry Conran (director) / Kerry Conran (screenplay)
CAST: Jude Law …. Joe ‘Sky Captain’ Sullivan
Gwyneth Paltrow …. Polly Perkins
Angelina Jolie …. Franky

Buy Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow on DVD