Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow(Paramount Home Entertainment, 1.25.2005)
One of the curiosities of science fiction movies is the way in which the designs of the future reflect the architecture and fashions of the period in which they were made. The triangular, art-deco sets of Flash Gordon echo the design obsessions of the 1930s. The grungy, lived-in look of Star Wars came about as American movies were beginning to dress down and reflect the 1970s youth counterculture. In the 1980s, the post-apocalyptic look of movies like Blade Runner and The Road Warrior allowed in the creeping influence of punk and new wave, just as they were making their way into mainstream pop culture.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is equally emblematic of this idea. Despite the obvious homages to the aforementioned Flash Gordon, the Fleischer brothers' Superman cartoons, and the washed-out color pallette of vintage science fiction pulp magazines and paperbacks, the film is evocative of our age of email, video games, fan websites, and all the other flotsam and jetsam that makes up "the age of information." This is partly due to the fact that the film was created almost entirely on computers.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is so steeped in its world that, unless you were the kind of kid who enjoyed watching Buster Crabbe play Flash Gordon, there's very little that will pull you in. Full disclosure: I have quite a few fond childhood memories of watching Flash and his ilk employ their derring-do in countless adventures on television with my brother and father so I was like a kid in a candy store while watching this movie. And it's quite a candy store for the right kind of kid -- giant robots, zeppelins, dinosaurs, hidden temples in the Himalayas -- but scratch the surface of writer/director Kerry Conran's movie and you find yourself peeking out into a vast stretch of thin air.
And that probably explains, in part, its woeful underperformance at the box office. Is it okay that the movie is this lightweight -- its sources weren't exactly brimming with gravitas to begin with -- or should the filmmakers have tried to make something a little deeper? Or would that have destroyed the tasty (if just a tad technocratic) souffle that is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow? I'm not sure, myself, but I found the movie to be a heck of a good time.
The extras on this disc illustrate the movie's intentions pretty clearly. Conran's original six-minute Sky Captain short, created on a home computer complete with an old-school "British Board of Film Censors" certificate and a "Chapter One" title card to set the mood, shows the director's desire to re-create the thrills of old movie serials with vintage design elements. Created to pitch the film's unique look to potential investors, one look at this is enough to see how Kerry and his brother Kevin (the film's designer) managed to drum up the excitement necessary to raise Sky Captain's big budget.
Equally entertaining is the short gallery of production sketches and artwork by Kevin Conran. These features make the obligatory "making of" documentary seem redundant...and a little dull. Most everyone and their grandmother knows by now that this movie was filmed entirely on green screen stages and that doesn't exactly make for an exciting behind-the-scenes journey. It's not as if they went to Nepal or Tunisia to film anything. And the leads, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, come off as blankly as the green screens in their interviews.
Also included are a pair of commentaries, one by producer Jon Avnet, whose chat is slightly (ever so slightly) more entertaining than the dead-air-filled commentary by Kerry and Kevin Conran, along with their effects crew, on the other track. All those guys in a room together and there's still dead air? Come on people!
Still, if you're the kind of kid-at-heart that's looking for a little Saturday afternoon fun, Sky Captain will deliver what you're looking for. -- Christopher Hyatt