Running Time: 106 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: 1
MSRP: $29.99

Own It!
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Somebody please explain to me why I don't like this movie.

The premise is terrific: a tale of 30's pulp adventure told with modern technology. In an alternate timeline (the opening image is a zeppelin flying by, named Hindenburg III), a fanatical scientist named Totenkopf is apparently finishing work he started before World War One. Scientists are being kidnapped, and outlandishly advanced robots are attacking cities and stealing machinery, apparently building something... and it is up to Sky Captain (Jude Law) and his on-again, off-again reporter girlfriend Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) to hunt down Totenkopf and foil his evil plans, whatever they may be.

There's certainly no faulting the technology on display here; everything has the comic book sheen and gosh-gee-whillikers sense of wonder of a 2000 A.D. or Boy's Adventure story, most obviously inspired by the Fleischer Brothers' Superman cartoons - but in the storytelling department, the movie falls far short, plummeting from set piece to set piece with little attention given to the concepts of rising and falling action. Is it really a good idea to take a hero named "Sky Captain" and have him spend most of the movie outside his James Bond-style airplane? And have his "Flying Legion" destroyed almost immediately?

Neither Law nor Paltrow is ideally cast, giving the audience no idea why they should be rooting for these people; the best work here is done by Angelina Jolie and Omid Djalili in extended cameos. And Giovanni Ribisi's character is named Dex, which I can only assume is short for Deus Ex Machina.

I really, really wanted to like this movie, based on my love for 30's pulps like Doc Savage and The Shadow. But what I find, sadly, is that those novels - written in an assembly-line fashion, month after month - still show more human spark and storytelling acumen than Sky Captain. Perhaps it's first-time director missteps; perhaps it's because the entire movie was shot in bluescreen rooms, rendering the actors glorified mimes.

Heck of a first act, though.

Since Sky Captain spent most of its life in the digital realm, this transfer is about the best that can be found, though the deliberate - and selective - softness of the picture can drive you crazy. So can the limited color palette. The animated menus are clever and well-done, if a bit long.

Kick things off with Brave New World, a well-done making-of feature that is divided into two chapters, one covering the genesis, pre-production and filming of the movie, the other the post-production process. All very well and good, except for the lack of a Play All function; it is not possible to watch this as a seamless whole.

The Art of World of Tomorrow is an interview with Production Designer Kevin Conran, brother of writer/director Kerry Conran, who ground out several trees worth of very nice concept and production art.

There is the original six-minute short that got Conran this gig, two deleted scenes (one of which is an excellent primer on the various levels of CGI and bluescreen jiggery-pokery that were going on), a gag reel, and previews for the new Alfie, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Without A Paddle. Be still, my heart.

The first commentary track, by producer Jon Avnet, is the best, detailing the beginnings of the project and its various twists and turns - though much of the information is also covered in Brave New World. The second track, by director Kerry Conran, Kevin Conran, animation director Steve Yamamoto and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings is somewhat disappointing in its frequent gaps - with that much FX work going on in each and every shot, you'd think one of them would have found something to say.

Dr. Freex, 2/3/2005