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Paramount Pictures

Official Site

Director: Kerry Conran

Producers: Jon Avnet, Marsha Oglesby, Sadie Frost, Jude Law

Written by: Kerry Conran

Cast: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi, Angelina Jolie, Bai Ling, Michael Gambon, Laurence Olivier


Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow moves briskly, and, to pay a tenuous homage to the madcap and brilliant explosion of childhood joviality that I’ve just seen, so shall this review. To be forthright, it is one of the very best films I’ve seen this year, and worthy of the same reverential adoration I laud upon Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, but for very different reasons. In short, if there exists within you even the slightest shred of imagination, see this movie.

Alternate-reality New York City, 1939: Seven scientists have been reported missing in a short span of time, and alliteration-friendly reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow) is tracking the story. Whilst partaking in a meeting with a stranger who claims to know who will be the next victim, a legion of giant robots bearing malicious (and vaguely Nazi) emblems stampedes through the city, causing much destruction. In a panic, the city officials contact Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Law), leader of a private, elite force of airborne peacekeepers. After saving the day with effortless panache, Sky Captain is reunited with ex-flame Polly, who offers him information relevant to tracking down the man responsible for the NYC attack, and others like it: Dr. Totenkopf (Olivier, via archival footage). Sky Captain begrudgingly agrees to let Polly accompany him on his quest to quell Totenkopf’s dark intentions in exchange for her knowledge, and the two ex-lovers depart, with the help of Dex the engineer (Ribisi) and Franky the British air commander (Jolie), to save the very world! (Cue fanfare.)

My gushing praise of Sky Captain must begin here. Sky Captain draws upon influences in both Golden Age comic books and pulp adventures from the 1930s and the 1950s (often self-referentially), and treats both historically underappreciated mediums with affection and respect, just as the Indiana Jones Trilogy did. The two primary performers, Law and Paltrow, play their purposefully two-dimensional characters with a wholehearted relish characteristic of a 1980s-era Harrison Ford, and contribute greatly to the lovingly sensationalistic feel of the film. Law is all action and unflappable as the quippy Sky Captain, while Paltrow matches his grit as the non-annoying, spunky love interest whose journalistic sensibilities conceal her soft heart and rekindled attraction to Joe Sullivan. Both players are imminently charming throughout the film, and sell the inferno of wonderment blasted at the viewer like fighter plane exhaust from moment one. Along the way, Sky Captain and Polly encounter miniature elephants, mutated freaks, Tibetan monks, android assassins, desiccated corpses, dinosaurs, legendary aboveground and underwater cities, flying aircraft carriers, and, of course, the aforementioned giant robots. The entire film is a constant affirmation of innocent spectacle amorously executed, meticulously detailed, and filtered through characters who we enjoy spending time with. Although the concentration of astonishing creatures and locales in this film is thick like a drive-in milkshake, it never grows tiresome and never becomes hyperkinetically wearisome.

Sky Captain’s design aesthetic of 1930s wardrobe and architecture meets 1950s sci-fi fetishism, along with its striking visual style, must also be commended for delivering the viewer to unfamiliar, beautiful territory. The combined effect is a striking nostalgic mélange which immediately transports us from sterile modernity to a romantic and idealized vision of quaint and comfortable Americana which feels welcoming in spite of its fictionalization. The high-contrast silver shine of the film (punctuated with well-placed, vibrant strokes of color) evokes the monochromatic sensibilities of the films of yesteryear, which, apart from lending the picture a sensuous and unique style, contributes greatly to its ethos of capturing the fantastic with giddy joy.

And capturing the giddy joy of bygone eras and of our personal bygone days is what Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow does so remarkably well. It made me forget my mundane troubles and trivial quibbles. It made me remember how in love with robots and planes and lost civilizations I was when I was a kid, and how in love with them I am still. It made me forget, it made me remember, and it made me quietly mutter “Oh, coooooooool!” to myself, often, while chills crossed like currents up and down my spine.

I don’t know who Kerry Conran is or how he was allowed to bring his original vision to the screen, but Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, his first film, has affected me in ways that I was unsure films still could. It is an example of translating beloved thematic material to the screen with awareness and respect, while still maintaining its essence. He is, in that way, the antithesis of Stephen Sommers, Hollywood’s current, talentless raconteur of choice of the pulp adventure film. Conran’s next film —A Princess Of Mars, based on pulp-era space novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs—is due in 2006, which means hope may still exist for big-budget Hollywood fantasy epics beyond The Lord Of The Rings. In the meantime, watch Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow many times, and let it take you, for it is a jubilant, unpretentious film unlike any released in the past 20 years.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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