When we last left our hero, the SKY CAPTAIN, he was soaring among the clouds in his P-40 aircraft, enjoying a restful moment of victory before the next call of “Come in Sky Captain”...
Okay, maybe there was no previous story of the flying ace, but that’s exactly the feel Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow gives - the feel of an old movie serial, where each climactic moment ends a chapter that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats until the next installment. Fortunately, Sky Captain isn’t divided into chapters, allowing the story of “The World of Tomorrow” to be told within the confines of this single movie.
Our hero is, of course, Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law), a dashing heroic figure who drinks shots of Milk of Magnesia and always manages to save the day. By his side is faithful sidekick and gadget man Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), a bubble gum chewing lad who helps Joe like Jimmy Olsen helps Superman, or the Kid helps Dick Tracy. And you have to have a love interest - here in the form of Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), a curious reporter who tends to cause more of Joe’s problems than Dex can help with. If Sky Captain were a true serial like it emulates, these would be your standard characters who appear week after week, with the less frequent visits by Franky (Angelina Jolie who despite high billing is barely in the picture), one of Joe’s former love interests who appears from time to time to help out and create tension between Joe and Polly.
“The World of Tomorrow” specifically tells the story of Joe and Polly’s search for Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier... yes, that Oliver, we’ll get more into how a dead man appears in this movie later on). The trouble with Totenkopf begins after New York City is attacked by giant robots, set on attacking the city’s generators. The robots are linked to missing scientists, who in turn are linked to Totenkopf. Soon Joe finds his sidekick Dex kidnapped, and must track down Totenkopf to find his missing buddy and the secret to the missing scientists. Of course, Polly tags along to get her story, and along the way Joe has to seek out Franky’s help, but you know by the end everything will be right and the characters will be ready for the next great story.
Sky Captain was shot almost entirely against a blue screen, with very little of the scenery being real. As such, the movie is a strong exercise for the actors, who have only each other to act off of, and in some cases, not even getting that as actors weren’t always filmed together. It’s difficult to react to explosions, sparks, gunfire, etc when it’s not really there, and most of the actors live up to the challenge. Jude Law and Giovanni Ribisi attack their roles in the film with their usual panache, although Paltrow tends to appear a bit stiff and uncomfortable at times. The environments were added in later, along with lighting effects, and the sepia glow look the film carries as part of its alternate 1930's stylized look. With the film mostly created on a computer, getting a performance from one of the silver screen’s biggest names didn’t present much more of an issue than the rest of the film despite him being dead, so we get a computer enhanced Laurence Olivier in the role of the bad guy. This does raise ethical questions about using actor’s performances without their permission, but we’ll leave that out of this review.
Writer/Director Kerry Conran makes the same smart move the big computer animators make with their films, by keeping the characters and story interesting enough that the movie as a whole doesn’t rely entirely on special effects, despite relying entirely on those effects just to give the scenes some sort of background. Thanks to the seamlessness of those digital backgrounds, you quickly forget you’re watching a movie that’s only three or four actors away from being Toy Story, and enjoy the movie, assuming you go for this sort of movie. This is the one movie out there I can say with one-hundred percent accuracy follows its trailer exactly. If you like the film’s trailer, you’ll love Sky Captain. If not, well, sit this one out. It’s not a huge drama or morality tale, it’s just what the trailer makes it appear to be - a popcorn flick with a fun story and some cool effects with giant robots and airplane combat that makes me want to sit down and play Crimson Skies.
Maybe Sky Captain doesn’t answer any philosophical questions, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun movie. So until next time... will Joe manage to save his loyal sidekick? Will Polly find a use for her one remaining picture? What wacky trick does Dex have up his sleeve next? All those, and more, will be answered in the next SKY CAPTAIN!!!
The DVD release of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow brings the fun of the serial-style film to your home, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. You see, the big effects of Sky Captain like giant robots or wild aircraft battles don’t translate as well to a home television and lose a lot of their impressive qualities. That said, because Sky Captain is more than just a special effects extravaganza, it’s still a fun watch, even if a little less eye-opening. The humor and relationships are still there, probably a little more visible with the diminished effects, keeping the film enjoyable.
Although this “Special Collector’s Edition” consists of only one disc, it still holds a fair amount of extra material, found within the disc’s heavy theming of the imposing robot appearance over the streets of New York. Given that the majority of the film is computer created, it should come as no surprise that the computer generated menu screens are equally as impressive as the film.
For the majority of extras, the key idea seems to be promoting the fact that this was an independent film started on the dream of writer/director Kerry Conran. Sky Captain began as a project Conran worked on in a small studio in his home on a Mac. That work generated a 6 minute short version of Sky Captain (included on the DVD) which was then used to almost unintentionally sell the film to producers who could generate funding for a bigger project. Through the two part documentary “Brave New World” you really get the feeling Kerry Conran is a little fish in a big pond who had a solid vision and was absolutely blown away at the support and cast his little dream managed to get.
The documentary also shows just how little of the film is real. By seeing rough footage of the scenes being filmed, you get to see what in the frame is real, and what is blue screened. It’s extremely impressive, and you almost wish there was a way to see the entire film without the CGI effects just to gain a greater appreciation of the movie. Also shown through the documentary are the animatics, artwork, and extensive planning that had to be done to pull off a project of this nature. In order to blue screen so much of the film, everything had to be planned out - camera movements, exactly what camera shots would look like, etc. You quickly see that Kerry Conran and his brother Kevin Conran (who serves as the film’s Production Designer) had to have a stronger vision than the famed Wachowski brothers' eye for detail. Although the documentary is a little under an hour, it successfully pulls off making the audience realize the process of making this movie, it’s ups and downs, and just how taxing a process it was.
A second featurette focuses on the artistic side of Sky Captain, bringing Kevin Conran to the front to talk about the designs of scenery, costumes, and characters. It’s a brief look at what inspired the Conran brothers, and how elements changed from character to character (for instance, Franky’s eye patch was at one time intended for Bai Ling’s Mysterious Woman character).
The film has two commentary tracks, one from Producer Jon Avnet, and the other by Kerry Conran and the visual effects crew - Kevin Conran, Steve Yamamoto, and Darin Hollings. As you might expect, the “in the trenches” commentary is more interesting. In the producer commentary Avnet tends to go on about his contributions to the film, how he got the cast together, and how he directed Kerry Conran as needed (it was Kerry’s first film after all). The second commentary by the people who pulled off the movie’s effects, from dreaming them up to making them filmatic reality. Neither commentary is a great deal of fun, staying pretty much all business on both, but if you’re looking for the meat and potatoes of how the film was made, the Kerry Conran track is the way to go.
So what is the disc missing? Well, even though it includes a few deleted scenes and a gag reel, for some reason the trailer was left off - a reoccurring problem Paramount seems to have with it’s DVD releases. You can watch a preview for Jude Law’s other film Alfie, but no evidence is here of Sky Captain’s ad campaign. Maybe you have to buy Alfie to see the Sky Captain trailer... As I mentioned before, it might have been nice to see several of the scenes in their entirety without the computer effects, just to see how the pieces went together (maybe as an angle button feature). Alas, nothing like that exists. Also this is one instance where an actor commentary might be interesting - to hear from Law, Ribisi, and Paltrow about what this experience was like, filming a movie that goes around the globe without ever leaving a sound stage.
For me, I loved Sky Captain in theaters, and this DVD is a natural extension of the film - following up on why and how the stylistic imagery on screen was created. Too many DVDs lose focus of what people might want to see, tacking on music videos to hype musical artists, or tossing in a featurette that ends up being nothing more than an extended commercial for the film. Sky Captain gets it right, and if you were interested in the film from the trailers, this is going to be a great film for you to see, and a good DVD to enjoy.