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February 22, 2005

Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain

I was really looking forward to seeing Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in the theaters several months ago when it first ran, but with crunch time¹ and general life craziness, I never made it out to the theaters. It's too bad, because this movie would have been very effective on a big screen.

Sky Captain basically tries to answer the question: "How far can a movie composed entirely of archetypal characters go?" The answer: pretty far, as long as the visuals are really strong, but not all the way. Since they're so strong, let's discuss those first.

There's been a lot of talk about the effects for this movie -- with the exception of the characters and items with which they directly interact (primarily hand-held props), the entire film was digitally composited together. It looks fabulous -- there's a level of detail here that really evokes films of the 30s and 40s; not too much detail, but just enough. It reminds me a lot of Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, which achieved its overall aesthetic vision by using only primary colors and leaving out needless detail². Here the aesthetic is achieved by using a high dynamic range in the lighting -- light is just spilling all over the place, and all of it has been softened, giving the film a beautiful, glowy look.

But that's most of what the film has to offer. The characters are a collection of archetypes -- our intrepid hero, still bearing a bit of feeling for our heroine, the wise-cracking reporter who still has a heart under that exterior. Her editor, the older man who worries for his young charge as a father figure. His sidekick, an engineer who can make all sorts of nifty gadgets. The other love interest, not really enough to provide a foil, but enough to get our heroine looking wistful. Only rarely do these characters let a little bit more shine through -- and those moments are precious. Too precious, because they are simply too few.

The plot -- well, the plot is recycled from any number of science fiction's "Golden Era" novels and comic books, a fact to which they visually allude in any number of instances. It's cute -- up to a point. But after a while I felt like they were just waving the lack of anything significantly new in my face.

Those gripes aside, there's a charm here -- the idea of an enormous rocket ship which nonetheless has an enormous and entirely useless³ statue inside, well, that's just not something you expect to see anymore. It speaks of a bygone era, when the style in which you did something added much to its substance. It would be well had the film listened to the whole of that: this is a film which tries to carry itself entirely on its style, and it's not enough.

**½ (out of four)

¹Soon to bear fruit. SWRC hits shelves late next week, from what I hear.

²E.g. a marquee for a shoe shop simply reads "Shoes". I imagine Dick Tracy drinks "Beer", chews "Gum", and fires a "Pistol".

³Indeed, counterproductive, given its weight...

Posted by Brett Douville at February 22, 2005 07:52 PM