The latest, greatest conjoining of man and machine is Kerry Conran’s debut film, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Creating an entire pixilated world with the use of CGI technology, like the effects seen in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Sky Captain takes one important step backwards in digital recreation by leaving the actors to portray themselves. Everything is computer generated except for the lovely-faced Hollywood stars and, to date, this bold, retro picture show is the best of an emerging genre.
Given a blockbuster-sized $70 million budget to work with, Conran dives into the material with a determined flair, reinventing the old-time science fiction extravaganza remeniscent of Buck Rogers for the 21st century. Watching Sky Captain is like watching a Saturday morning cartoon infused with life. It’s a hodgepodge of digital craftsmanship combined with a couple of talented actors to make it all work. The film has no qualms about using a plotline that seems to come straight from comic books.
The storyline starts with the intentionally familiar plot involving disappearances of the world’s leading scientists. Gwyneth Paltrow, in an uneven performance, plays ace reporter Polly Perkins, who discovers the disappearances just as a group of giant, killer robots trample through New York, destroying buildings and unearthing nuclear reactors beneath the streets.
In typical heroic fashion, the town calls Sky Captain to the rescue, played by the consistently great Jude Law, and our gallant leading man comes to save the day.
Sky Captain and Polly Perkins eventually end up striking a deal to work together, in spite of their rocky romantic past, to get Polly her story and find the notorious Dr. Totenkopf, the man behind these dastardly deeds. The evil doctor is an astonishingly creative rendering of the long-dead Laurence Olivier, pieced together from archival footage.
Dr. Totenkopf is gathering up all the materials he needs to create his planned “World of Tomorrow,” a replica of our world complete with his very own Adam and Eve. When he succeeds, this mad scientist plans to incinerate our world, which he believes is already destined for destruction.
Amusingly hokey, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow does not get any better than when actors deadpan lines like, “Why won’t you die?!” Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi also show up in limited roles, with Jolie shining for her few minutes of screen time as Captain Francesca Cook or simply “Franky,” complete with eye patch.
It is a good thing Sky Captain is so self-deprecating, because truthfully these machines are not much of an enemy. The film stalls any time it has to rely on simple battle scenes, not being able to offer much in terms of anxiety. There really is no fear our heroes might fail, so these scenes get tedious quickly. But relying on a wonderfully novel idea, some beautifully constructed digital sets and excellent actors, Sky Captain is old-fashioned popcorn entertainment at its best.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at email@example.com.