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Gavin Greig [userpic]

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

October 17th, 2004 (02:14 pm)
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Last weekend, just before heading off south, I went to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

I was hoping for it be fantastic, and in some ways it was, but overall I came out a little disappointed.

The film is grounded in pulp sci-fi of the 1930s or 1940s, and takes advantage of CGI to bring those visions to the screen on a grand scale. You will never have seen a film quite like this before, and despite some reservations about this one, I hope it's not the last of its kind.

Sky Captain (Jude Law) is an action hero of the early flier type, and accompanied by his ex, a journalist (Gwynneth Paltrow), he sets off to save the world. Many set pieces later, a resolution occurs. One of the problems is that that's all you get. I think this movie could have taken two successful paths given its choice of setting - one would be to play it straight and have a message for a modern audience, while the other would be to make it an action movie and camp it up for laughs, à la Flash Gordon. Sadly, SCATWOT plays it straight as an action movie. There's no message, and not enough laughs.

I think the other big mistake was in the choice of palette for the movie - not something one could have criticised in quite the same way before the last few years, but fair game now, especially in such a stylised picture. The colours are desaturated, sometimes to the verge of greyscale, in order to achieve a period look. At times this gives it an aroma of film noir, which is unfortunate, and not actually true to its sources. Pulp fiction illustration of the period - not to mention most film of the period - is brightly coloured, not washed out.

Some of the technology was a bit silly, particularly Sky Captain's plane. It looked like a Curtiss of the 30s or 40s, but could fly underwater and cornered through the blocks of New York rather better than I imagine you could manage in a car. Visually this was all well handled, but there was a little LED flashing in my brain over the NOT POSSIBLE sign. Sky Captain's plane was too realistic for me to believe in it defying physics. For a better and more plausible extrapolation of 1940s design into suspend-your-disbelief sci-fi aerobatics, in my opinion, take a look at the Naboo fighters in The Phantom Menace.

What is good about this film is the grandeur of the vision, and the confidence with which it revives in visual form a dated written genre which people are secretly rather fond of. I hope it spurs other film makers to do better by showing what's possible. This is not an Indiana Jones for the 21st century, but with a bit of luck it may inspire one.

The film ends on a funny, and wonder of wonders, it doesn't milk it - although it is the culmination of a running joke. There are two words, there might be a reaction shot (I can't recall), then cut to credits. If only the rest of the film were quite as good as the end. Mind you, I've just read a review on IMDB which says the exact opposite - great movie, let down by a weak and abrupt ending. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

I probably will buy this movie when it arrives on DVD, but it will be for the visuals and not for the movie itself. Maybe I'll wait until it's been reduced.