Dir:Kerry Conran. US. 2004. 106mins.
Thespirit and look of vintage science fiction meets the digital technology ofscience fact in Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow, an eccentricallyretro-futuristic adventure whose live actors appear in a world almost entirelycreated on computers. The mix of old and new produces some mightily impressivevisuals and a few bursts of innocent, Saturday matinee fun.
Eventually,though, Sky Captain comes to feellike a rather pointless nostalgia trip, a hi-tech homage to the likes of FlashGordon, King Kong and Metropolis that has plenty of affectionfor its models but nothing much fresh to add.
Thefilm should still please its core audience of male comic book readers andfantasy lovers. Fanboy websites have been spreading enthusiastic buzz since SkyCaptain screened at the US Comic-Con convention in July, so Paramount cancount on a strong turnout for the domestic opening this weekend (perhapsstronger than would have been the case if the film had opened in its original summerslot just before Spider-Man 2). The big question, though, is whethermainstream audiences will embrace the conceit or prove indifferent.
Inthe international marketplace, UIP may be able to leverage the Anglo-Americancast for decent results in the handful of major territories for which Paramountacquired rights. But getting Sky Captain to fly could be a realchallenge for the independent distributors that have bought the film for otherterritories from sales company Filmauro.
Firsttime writer-director Kerry Conran (now working on an adaptation of Edgar RiceBurroughs' A Princess Of Mars) first created the 'World of Tomorrow' onspec for a six-minute video produced on his home computer. For the full-lengthfilm, Conran shot the actors against a blue screen in a London studio and thenworked with his production designer brother Kevin on more than 2,000 digitaleffects shots and backgrounds.
TheConrans' artistry is evident from the film's opening sequence, when a zeppelinarrives in what looks like a German expressionist version of late thirties NewYork City. In the metropolis, ace reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow) witnesses anattack by giant robots that are only stopped when her old flame, crack fighterpilot Sky Captain (Law), swoops into town. To find the evil genius behind theattack, Polly and Sky Captain head off first to a secret air base, then to theHimalayan valley of Shangri-la and finally to the island launch pad of a hugerocket that threatens to destroy the Earth.
TheConrans don't just supply the film with a variety of beautifully realisedbackdrops, from the skyscraper canyons of New York to the mountain vistas ofNepal. They also invent some enjoyably oddball gadgets and machines, includingseveral species of robot, a fleet of bird-like attack planes and a massivehovering aircraft carrier.
Thefilm's atmosphere is enhanced by soft-focus photography and noir-style lightingand a sepia colour scheme that gradually becomes more vivid as the storyprogresses.
Perhapssurprisingly, given the challenging production method, the performances areoften enjoyable too. Law (for whom this is the first of six major releasesscheduled for the next half year or so) and Paltrow are well cast as ambitious,sniping former lovers and Angelina Jolie does a brief but delicious turn as aneye-patched flying ace. Much less successful is the gimmicky use of old footageof Laurence Olivier for the scratchy video appearances of villain Dr Totenkopf.
Whatthe film most crucially fails to do is match its visuals with compelling actionor drama. A terrific early sequence that has Polly and Sky Captain bickeringacross the cockpit as he conducts a dogfight over the streets of Manhattanshows a lot of promise, but the supply of excitement and sexual tension getsscarcer as the film goes on. Long before the heroic couple saves the day thiscuriosity of a movie begins to seem like a cute idea that's been stretched toofar.
Prodcos: BrooklynFilms II, Riff Raff-Blue Flower, Filmauro
Intl sales: Filmauro
US dist: Paramount
Exec prods: Raffaella De Laurentiis, Bill Haber, Aurelio De Laurentiis
Prods: JonAvnet, Marsha Oglesby, Sadie Frost, Jude Law
Prod des: Kevin Conran
Senior FX supe: Scott E Anderson
Main cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Gambon, Bai Ling,Omid Djalili, Angelina Jolie