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Kerry Conran
Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Giovanni Ribisi, Angelina Jolie , Michael Gambon, Ling Bai, Omid Djalili, Laurence Olivier
Writing Credits:
Kerry Conran

The Battle for Tomorrow is About to Begin ...

It's Sky Captain (Jude Law) to the rescue in this high-flying adventure where he must team up with intrepid reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Captain Franky Cookie (Angelina Jolie) to stop the evil Dr. Totenkopf from carrying out his plan to destroy the world!

Box Office:
$40 million.
Opening Weekend
$15.580 million on 3170 screens.
Domestic Gross
$37.760 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 1/25/2005

• Audio Commentary with Producer Jon Avnet
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kerry Conran, Production Designer Kevin Conran, Animation Director/Digital Effects Supervisor Steve Yamamoto, and Visual Effects Supervisor Darin Hollings
• “Brave New World” Documentary
• “The Art of World of Tomorrow” Featurette
• The Original Six-Minute Short
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow: Special Collector's Edition (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 17, 2005)

As technological advances have made computer-generated imagery more and more effective, we’ve come closer and closer to the possibility of photo-realistic movies created solely via those techniques. 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first prominent attempt to make a computer-animated flick that looked real. It didn’t work.

2004’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow doesn’t go to the computer extremes of Fantasy, but it comes close. Its only real components come from its actors, as everything else emanates from software. This forms an attractive and often sumptuous visual experience but not one that often engages or involves the viewer.

Set in a fantasy New York at the end of the Thirties, Sky Captain initially introduces us to Doctor Jorge Vargas (Julian Curry) as he flees from an unknown party. Vargas sends an urgent note to Dr. Walter Jennings (Trevor Baxter): “I am being followed. You must protect them.” He then disappears, which brings newspaper reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) into an investigation when she gets a package that tells her to meet someone at 6 PM to find out who will disappear next.

Polly meets with Jennings at Radio City and learns a little about a secret panel on which he worked after World War I. Part of “Unit 11”, he was forced to serve evil genius Totenkopf. Jennings then vanishes again, and matters darken when giant flying robots invade New York. Joseph “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) gets the call to come to the rescue, and he battles them to the best of his abilities.

We find that the robots and other devices are attacking all around the world and stealing resources. Sky Captain and his army are called upon to investigate. He brings in a captured robot and has his technical expert Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) examine it. We then learn that Polly and Joe dated but split badly while on the job. She has a blueprint for the robot and will trade it for the inside scoop.

They discover that the robots have been acting for three years but no one knows where they’re from or why they’re doing what they do. Polly tells Joe and Dex about Totenkopf and they form an uneasy alliance. They break into Jennings’ lab to find out more, where they discover some weird experiments and a wounded Jennings. They also run into a vicious mystery woman (Bai Ling). Jennings gives something to Polly and dies.

From there we witness an attack on Sky Captain’s compound and Dex tries to interpret a radio wave. The robots eventually capture the technician, but Joe finds a message from Dex that he tracked the signal in Nepal. Joe and Polly head there to rescue him and get to the bottom of things. Along the way they get help from a few of Joe’s associates such as Royal Navy Commander Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie), another former flame of Joe’s. The movie traces the adventures of Joe and Polly as they pursue Totenkopf and get to the bottom of his actions.

Is it just me, or does it seem odd that Sky Captain uses cutting edge filmmaking techniques to create a film that emulates the low-budget serials of the Thirties? Be assured that Captain goes way out of its way to imitate the look of those old flicks, though it takes things to a visual extreme.

Nearly black and white but very lush and lavish, the movie consistently looks great. They don’t look real, but the movie doesn’t intend to go for that tone. It works from a point of fantasy and develops an engrossing world within those parameters. Visual design is absolutely top-notch, as we get a lovely setting along with great-looking villains and robots.

The film always remains a feast for the eyes. I’m no fan of CG, but I think Captain creates a surprisingly believable environment. It’s amazing to think that none of the elements existed, as it all comes across convincingly. Granted, the fantasy nature of the project helps, but the experience still could have flopped. I was fully able to suspend disbelief and accepted what I saw as real throughout the flick.

The movie’s action sequences also soar. The opening attack from the robots is quite impressive. It clearly borrows liberally from the AT-AT battle in The Empire Strikes Back but it creates a lavish and impressive sequence that stands out as something of its own. The smattering of additional action bits also prosper.

Surprisingly, the film’s biggest weakness comes from its cast. On the surface, this should be a strength. We get two Oscar winners with Paltrow and Jolie, and Law has received a number of nominations. There’s a lot of talent at work here, but it largely goes to waste.

Perhaps the actors weren’t able to adapt well to the blue-screen settings. Perhaps the problems stemmed from the presence of an inexperienced director with a heavy tech background. I don’t know what caused the issues, but most of the actors failed to create vivid, interesting personalities.

Actually, “most” may be an overstatement. Jolie’s part amounts to little more than a glorified cameo, but she presents a sly, devilish and sexy presence in her brief screentime. Unfortunately, we see little of her, so we’re stuck with the relationship between Paltrow and Law. The pair display almost zero chemistry, and their interactions fizzle.

This creates a serious hole in the center of the film. Much of it relies on a snappy rapport between the two, as we’re supposed to see them bicker but still maintain an attraction to each other. Like many other parts of the flick, Raiders Of the Lost Ark seems to be the main influence here, as Indy and Marion look like the model for Joe and Polly. Unfortunately, Law and Paltrow fail to generate the same sparks, as they never interact in a compelling manner. Since the movie depends so much on their relationship, that becomes a problem.

The bland story also creates issues. Again, it shoots for an Indiana Jones style adventure, but it presents a muddled narrative that doesn’t make its goals clear. Totenkopf exists as a vague threat and that’s about it. With a strong plot, the absence of a distinctive villain would be fine, and vice versa. However, since it lacks either a rich tale or a lively baddie, the movie mostly plods along as it heads toward its unenthusiastic conclusion.

Sky Captain does enough well to create a sporadically enjoyable adventure, and it certainly stretches movie technology. The flick presents an exquisite visual experience and occasionally knocks out some exciting action bits. Unfortunately, it lacks a lively story or interesting characters. This means the film gets points for ambition but lacks the consistency to become a real success.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A/ Bonus B+

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A high level of stylization made the picture Captain tough to evaluate objectively, but within its parameters, the movie looked solid.

Sharpness was one of those elements that was difficult to judge. The movie used a glowing look that caused a slightly soft feel, but I didn’t interpret that as a flaw. The film was supposed to present this mildly less defined appearance, and the DVD replicated it well. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and as far as I could tell, the image lacked edge enhancement. The film’s natural glow made it tough to tell, but I discerned no external haloes. Print flaws also remained absent.

Technically, we’d have to call Captain a color film. However, it was awfully monochrome. The majority of the flick presented images that were essentially black and white, blue or sepia tone. Even when other hues popped up, they were extremely subdued and desaturated. Dark elements heavily dominated the flick, and the colors looked fine within those parameters. Blacks seemed tight and dense, while the many low-light shots demonstrated good clarity and distinctiveness. I found no reasons for complaint, as the DVD gave us visuals that appeared true to the source.

Even better was the vivid Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sky Captain. An active and involving affair, the soundfield provided a great sense of environment. Quieter scenes kept us in the game with nice atmospheric elements, and the action sequences brought the mix to life in a wonderful manner. This started with the initial robot attack, a scene that will likely become a demo for many home theaters. Similar sequences worked equally well, and the movie consistently used all five channels to strong effect. The surrounds played an aggressive role as they fleshed out the audio.

Sound quality lived up to the splendors of the soundfield. Speech was consistently natural and crisp, with no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant. The score was always rich and showed good definition. Effects blasted home the action nicely. They were accurate and dynamic and kicked into high gear when appropriate. I felt very impressed with the track’s bass response, as low-end was tight and firm. No boominess interfered with the punch in the louder scenes. All in all, this soundtrack dazzled.

Despite the movie’s lackluster box office reception, Sky Captain gets a good roster of extras. We find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from producer Jon Avnet. He offers a good running, screen-specific chat. Avnet gets into many of the challenges - both low and high tech - encountered during the production. We find out how he came onto the project, got financing and developed it, and cast it. Avnet also discusses the ways he had to nurture the introverted director and helped pull him out of his shell. There’s a lot about the technical issues and various innovations. Avnet presents a good look at all aspects of the production and makes this an interesting and informative piece.

By the way, Avnet’s piece accentuates a minor trend in commentaries. He mocks critics who disparaged Jolie’s British accent, and he has a point; she pulls off the inflections well, so I don’t know why folks would state otherwise. It’s just weird that I’ve recently heard commentators go after critics in their tracks. This has happened in the past, but it seems to have become more common lately.

For the second commentary, we hear from writer/director Kerry Conran, production designer Kevin Conran, animation director/digital effects supervisor Steve Yamamoto, and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings. All four sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. I’ve heard worse commentaries, but this one’s decidedly mediocre. Most of the remarks revolve around reminding us about the absence of sets and props. We get many notes about the sparseness of the shooting environments. The participants also often just tell us who performed various tasks.

A few story notes appear, and a little wry humor enlivens the proceedings on occasion. We also get a few insights into references to other works. Not many long gaps mar the piece, but a fair number of examples of dead air occur. The track moves at a decent pace, but it just doesn’t bring a lot to the table. I can’t say I learned much from this extremely low-key commentary.

After this comes a two-part documentary called Brave New World. Taken together, the piece fills 51 minutes and 44 seconds as it offers the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Kerry Conran, Kevin Conran, Avnet, Hollings, Yamamoto, producer Marsha Oglesby, visual effects producer Daniel Rucinski, special photographic process Stephen Lawes, animation supervisor Robert Dressel, CG lighting director Michael Sean Foley, production supervisor Matthew Feitshans, modeling supervisor Zack Petroc, director of systems engineering Brian Chacon, editor Sabrina Plisco, and actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Angelina Jolie. We learn of the roots of the film and its early guises, the concepts behind the processes used to make it, initial designs and other work for the original six-minute version, pitching the film, casting, pre-production and various planning processes, the visual design, technical challenges and shooting without sets, post-production and visual effects, the use of color, technological challenges and fears related to on-time completion.

At times, “World” comes across as self-congratulatory, as we get more than a few comments about the remarkable nature of the film. However, it offers plenty of good notes about the production. Usually audio commentaries are the most effective methods to convey lots of information, but due to the unusual nature of Captain, a documentary works best. It’s great to get a look at the raw footage and see what went into making this flick. The program packs in lots of solid information and moves at a reasonable pace to create a useful documentary.

Next we find a featurette entitled The Art of World of Tomorrow. In this eight-minute and 20-second program, we get notes from Kevin Conran. He discusses the movie’s look and art design. He covers the general visual presentation as well as the specifics of some sets, clothes and prominent pieces. We see a lot of planning sketches and learn many good details about the film’s visual influences and decisions. It’s short but tight and satisfying.

An interesting element, we get the Original Six-Minute Short. This was used essentially to pitch the viability of all-CG settings and helped get financing for the flick. We see parts of this in the documentary, but here we watch it in its entirety. Presented non-anamorphic 1.78:1, the quality’s a little fuzzy, but it’s very cool to see this seminal work in full.

Two Deleted Scenes fill five minutes and eight seconds. We get “Totenkopf’s Torture Room” and “The Conveyor Belt”. The first is a fairly redundant look at Totenkopf’s victims, but “Belt” offers a more interesting piece with a little more action and insight into Totenkopf’s lair. It’s unfinished and crude but interesting to see.

More unused material appears via a Gag Reel. The two-minute and 32-second clip shows a lot of the usual goofs and giggles, but we get some cool shots due to the nature of the film. I like being able to see more of the sparsely-populated sets and unusual techniques, and we also watch some wacky CG shots. I’m not a fan of gag reels, but this one’s worth a look.

No trailer for Captain appears, but the disc opens with some previews. This includes ads for Alfie, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Without a Paddle, and The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. These also can be accessed via the Previews option in the “Special Features” menu. One other note: most of the extras provide both English, Spanish and French subtitles.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow provides a flick with great looks but little substance. Despite a strong cast, it suffers from bland performances, and its dull plot doesn’t help. The visuals are terrific, and the action sequences excite enough to make the movie fun at times, but it lacks consistency. As for the DVD, it presents excellent visuals and audio as well as a generally strong package of extras. Because the movie itself is so erratic, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Sky Captain, but there’s enough unusual material on display here to make it worth at least a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2448 Stars Number of Votes: 49
7 3:
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