This movie was a lot of fun. I knew I would enjoy it the instant I saw the trailer. But then I had to sit around and wait for it’s Summer 2004….I mean September 2004 release (oops). But the wait (obviously due to under-performance fears i.e. Spider-Man 2) was well worth it . Written and directed by Kerry Conran, it contains that rare blend of vision and execution. Usually when you get six or seven people involved in the artistic vision of a picture, you end up with more style on the cutting room floor than on the screen. But with writers helming their films, the movie seems to carry a much more personal message, making the viewing experience that much more enjoyable…whether or not it succeeds at the box office just doesn’t matter.
Reminiscent of the pulp comics of the early 20th century with it’s almost water-colored effects, the movie takes place in New York City circa 1939. Starring Jude Law as cocky fighter pilot Joseph “Sky Captain” Sullivan, Gwyneth Paltrow as ex-flame/investigative reporter Polly Perkins and Giovanni Ribisi as inventor/sidekick Dex Dearborn, the movie quickly establishes that this isn’t your grandparents New York (a ZEPPELIN docking at the top of the empire state building?) or for that matter your grandparents 1939 (a WOMAN reporter with her own office?). In fact one might go so far as to say that we’ve gone over the rainbow to a 1939 New York full of fantastical flights of fancy. Apologies are necessary, but one has to make that reference as their are multiple references to The Wizard of Oz throughout the film.
The characters are superbly acted and enjoyable to watch. Law’s smirking Sky Captain revives the lone wolf hero we all saw in Harrison Ford’s early days with the panache of Errol Flynn, Paltrow shines as the intrepid Polly by fleshing out her character’s brash Lois Lane skeleton and Ribisi’s Dex revives the kid in all of us with his open-mouthed awe, creative ingenuity and priceless comedic timing. Rounding out the cast is Angelina Jolie and Michael Gambon. Angelina delivers a wonderful performance as stern but loose-lipped Captain Francesca “Franky” Cook of Her Majesties Navy. An old friend of Joe Sullivan, she manages to be there ready to sacrifice for the team. You may remember Michael Gambon from this year’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (in which he replaces the deceased Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore) but even in his brief cameo here, his acting talents shine brightly through Polly’s editor Morris Paley and the concern he feels for her blatant disregard of safety. Also featured as a Tibetan guide (and supplier of a peculiar joke*) is Omid Djalili, whom I recognized as the greedy prison guard from The Mummy who gets his brain eaten by a scarab. Fortunately, he survives this movie to live another freezing day in Tibet. Oh boy.
Despite the enjoyable performances, the visuals and music are the true stars of the show. The entire film carries with it a stylistic haze of escapist fantasy**. The outside world just doesn’t matter when you watch this film. Created in an entirely digital environment, the film shows us how far CGI has come. It is simply breath-taking. The music, written by Edward Shearmur, blends right in with the movie, enhancing and supplementing it perfectly. No stranger to cinematic soundtracks, Shearmur kicks it up a notch with this film. From the effervescent theme to the climatic battle music, Shearmur outdoes himself constantly.
Coming out of this movie, people will say that the plot is old and tired. Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way…at least I wouldn’t if they had done it correctly. The movie stars out wonderfully and at first it’s difficult to pick up the subtle shifts in plot focus. But as the movie progresses you start to realize that they aren’t going with a Nazi plot. Which is stupid. Everybody loves to hate the Nazi’s! So here I am at the end of the movie and I’m annoyed. First it’s not a Nazi plot and then there’s no kiss?!? Everyone expected it and it’s because of this that you don’t get a very good first impression of Jane Monheit’s “Over the Rainbow.” Which is unfortunate, because she does a wonderfully jazzy rendition of the song. Also contributing to the mixing SNAFU is that the song is misplaced. The credits should begin with the booming Sky Captain theme and then transition to her song. By placing it the way they did, they continue the awkward spirit in which they ended the movie. I mean it just isn’t a film in this time period if it’s not a Nazi plot. Or at least it isn’t a great film.
But this is still an enjoyable film. In my opinion, it is the societal spirit of cynicism that cause people to dislike pictures like this just because the plot seems re-hashed. Even if the plot is re-hashed, this adventure film still belongs right up there with classics like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Well maybe a little to the left, but you get the idea.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is an enjoyable film that isn’t hard to follow with lots of adventure for the whole family.
* Kaji: Ah, Vienna sausages. It’s been a long time. Sky Captain: I thought you were Tibetan? Kaji: (translated from Tibetan) In the cold my nipples get hard. WTF?
** Three things: Shangri-la looks like a cross between Naboo from Star Wars and Rivendell from Lord of the Rings; Studio 1138?; Totenkopf’s island looks like a cross between the swamps of Naboo, a brightly lit Dagobah, and Jurassic Park.