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Laramie Movie Scope:
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

A cartoon-like retro futuristic story

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 20, 2004 -- “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is a one-of-a-kind movie that looks like an early comic book and has the plot of a James Bond movie, but with characters from the 1930s. It also has killer artwork similar to old films like “Metropolis” and some action serials. The plot and characterizations are as thin as onion skin. The live action figures and computer-generated backgrounds don't always mesh. The computer animation doesn't look realistic enough in some scenes, but most of the time, the process works well enough. It is fascinating to watch and there is plenty of action. This is as much of a breakthrough film as “Tron” was.

I'm not a believer in the auteur theory of films (that the director of a movie is like the author of a book), because making movies is very much a collaborative process, sometimes involving thousands of people. Writing a book, on the other hand, is more of a solitary pursuit. This film is a collaborative effort, but much more than most, this movie represents one man's artistic vision. That man is Kerry Conran. Who? Well, this is his first film. He started the project on a home computer, painstakingly constructing the movie one frame at a time. After a few years, he had a few minutes completed, enough to show studio people. It looked so good, he got studio backing, and was also allowed to direct the film. Conran wrote the screenplay, directs the film, and is almost entirely responsible for the artistic look of the film. He's as close to a movie Auteur as you're likely to find. The film was made by extreme use of the “blue screen” process. Over 90 percent of the film is created digitally, the rest is live action, with real actors. The result is unique.

The main actors in the film are Jude Law of “Cold Mountain,” who plays Joe 'Sky Captain' Sullivan, Gwyneth Paltrow of “Possession,” who plays intrepid newspaper reporter Polly Perkins, and Giovanni Ribisi of “Cold Mountain,” who plays genius inventor/sidekick Dex Dearborn. The three heroes are out to stop the bad guy, a megalomaniac who wants to destroy the world. His evil scheme involves giant flying robots. The bad guy's headquarters is located on a remote island, just like in the James Bond movies.

Despite all the futuristic stuff, autonomous robots, giant flying fortresses and vehicles that appear to have anti-gravity equipment, the story is set in the year 1939. There is a strange co-mingling of old and new technologies, including old-fashioned intercoms, dirigibles, and Sky Captain's vintage American P-47 warplane, complete with the “Flying Tiger” insignia. There are also references in the film to lots of other movies, like King Kong and the Indiana Jones films. In one scene, we see the number 1138 on a door, a possible reference to George Lucas' first film, “THX 1138,” which just happens to have been re-released recently. If Conran turns out to be half as good as Lucas we'll all be lucky.

The movie looks like old photographs with its sepia-toned low-color appearance. It is a color film, but the color saturation is very low. In some scenes, color is almost completely absent. The architecture and other art design elements are art deco, true to the time period. The robots and other futuristic elements are also retro, looking like old artwork from early science fiction magazines. The storyline and characters are also throwbacks to an earlier time. It could be argued that the film represents a post-modernist look at a period in our history when people thought science and technology would solve all of our problems. This film may represent a new angle on post-modernism, or it may be merely a nostalgic homage to a simpler, more optimistic time. Like the Indiana Jones series, it may also pay tribute to the imaginative art forms of the early 20th Century. This analysis probably makes a difference only to people who would rather deconstruct movies than enjoy them. It is fun to watch this unique movie, regardless of its meaning, or lack of it. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)