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Film Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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To put the problem with this film succinctly: Jude Law doesn’t sweat.

A fantastically bland revolution explodes on the screen in Kerry Conran’s “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”. A fascinating mix of Fritz Lang, Ray Harryhausen and Robert Wiene, Sky Captain takes us to the retro-future of the twenties and thirties, where giant robots menace daring aviators and sinister and unseen forces plot to take over the Earth. Dirigibles dock on the spire of the Empire State Building (it was originally built for that very purpose, in fact) and everything is moody, dreamlike- and incredibly CGI.
The film is notable, because it was filmed without sets and with a tiny cast, who acted entirely against green screens. The result is actually kind of unique. The composited double and triple images feel like cinematic collage and you’ve never seen anything like it.
The problem, however, is that all this fabulous imagery and stylization is shoe-horned into a rather boring plot with lackluster characters. The usually likable Jude Law plays the eponymous Sky Captain, Joe Sullivan as a tough guy who really knows how to thrust out his chin. That actually makes him sound more appealing than he really is. Suffice it to say, we like Indy not because he’s a hero, but because he’s a wiseacre. While Law’s character’s lack of self-conciousness is true to the time period that the movie is emulating, audiences expect more from their heroes than just swagger and smile.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays the smart working girl reporter, but without any of the charm or ease that Jenifer Jason Leigh managed when she played a much better written version of the same role in the Cohen Brother’s “Hudsucker Proxy”.
I bring up the Cohen Brothers movie, not just because the two film are trying to create the same style, but because “Hudscucker” has what “Sky Captain” desperately needs: pacing and charm.

You can feel this movie working for every thrill it gives. It’s the cinematic equivelent of a fifty-year old tap dancer trying to pull off a routine meant for a twenty-year old. You applaud, but more out of encouragment than genuine enjoyment. If ever there was a movie that needed a “gee-whiz” moment, it’s this one. Remember the first time you saw “Raiders”? Of course you do. Remember, there’s that part where the villain pulls out all the stops in his “I’m going to slice you AND dice you” sword routine and in response, Indy just pulls out his gun and shoots the guy dead? If only “Sky Captain” had an ounce of the heart and humor that moment has, I could reccomend it.

This brings us back to my original comment about Jude Law and his lack of perspiration. I don’t know if it’s the gauzy bleached process of the film, it’s lack of developed characters or it’s paper-thin plot (which tries to make up for the lack of a real villain with a superstar cameo. Nice to see you working again Mr. Olivier), but we don’t care about these characters really. We know nothing about them really, they have no real identifying traits and while they look gorgeous, do they really need to look gorgeous and perfectly made-up at the top of Mount-Frikken-Everest?

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  • Eric Olsen

    very nice Japhy, thanks – it very interesting to see the frames of reference in reviews: you are asking for logic and charm