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Every once in a while along comes a film that by the title alone you have a good sense of what to expect; films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow is exactly that type of movie, conjuring up images of fighter planes, robotic flying machines and fast paced action set in a fantastical, alternate reality…all of the things that the little boy inside every grown man giddily cheers over.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Set in a highly stylized and idealized version of the world circa 1939, gigantic robots are stealing natural resources and power from every major city across the globe, mysteriously showing up out of nowhere and wreaking havoc wherever they appear. At the same time, intrepid news report Polly Perkins (Gwenyth Paltrow) uncovers a conspiracy linking the robots with the disappearance of several, prominent scientists from across the globe. Only Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), a.k.a. Sky Captain, can stop the menace and help Polly find the evil mastermind behind the attacks before he can create a new utopia by destroying the current world and beginning anew.

There’s really only one word to describe Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, and that word is fun. I can’t remember the last time that I sat down to watch a movie and didn’t want to turn away out of fear that I might miss something really spectacular or wanting to see what came next in a film so badly. In Sky Captain, Kerry Conran has created the perfect love letter to the serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s that blends together what made those movies so endearing and memorable still today.

The look of the film is the first thing that catches the eye with its soft lighting and sepia tones, but looking closer the overall design of the film harkens back to not so much a realistic version of 1939 and the films of that time, but an idealized version of them complete with art deco buildings and surroundings that recall Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Take an even closer look and you’ll notice several touches here and there that pay loving homage to not only the Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers type serials of the time, but to other films of the 1930s such as King Kong, Wuthering Heights, and The Wizard of Oz as well. Those looking for reality need look elsewhere, as this movie is more comic book than a historically accurate account of the pre-World War II world, but it only adds to the promise that anything can and will happen in Sky Captain’s world. In addition to the overall look and set design of the film, each toy-like robot, outlandish weapon and Sky Captain’s own, highly modified P-40 Warhawk has been lovingly designed and digitally rendered, helping to add real depth and a great deal of kitschy charm to the picture as a whole.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
But the design of the film is only partially responsible for pulling off the entire feel of the movie as the story and the characters fit perfectly into the serial mould as well. By making the story simple and fast paced, jumping from one perilous scene to the next and hopping from continent to continent, Conran has crafted a screenplay that fits perfectly into his vision of recreating the serial film experience. Those past movies had to keep their stories simple enough that moviegoers could remember the most important pieces of everything that had happened the week before, so usually the storylines weren’t very intricate and even if you happened to miss and episode here or there you could still catch up with everyone else fairly easily. In watching Sky Captain, you can almost tell the points in the movie when the narrator would break in and tell the audience to return next week to continue the thrilling adventure and you can easily tell the trajectory of where the film is headed from the outset—good guy and girlfriend must stop bad guy from destroying the world. Granted, the film’s plot isn’t as sophisticated as what a lot of today’s audiences expect, but the story is designed to be simple and Conran’s screenplay is a perfect example of how such writing works given the correct context.

Jude Law, Gwenyth Paltrow and the rest of the cast, including Angelina Joile and Giovanni Ribisi, fill their roles just as well as the screenplay fits the film. Law and Paltrow’s bickering banter of two former lovers is reminiscent of Bogart and Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn and works well for the film in an innocent and playful manner. Aside from the chemistry between the leads, with Law in the lead role as Joe you get the feeling that no matter what Sky Captain will find a way to win the day and in Paltrow the feeling that Polly might just back her way into saving the day if for some reason Joe doesn’t. All of the other characters come and go just like chapters in a serial, but while the supporting cast’s screen time is comparatively limited to Law and Paltrow’s they are a lot of fun while they’re around. Ribisi’s Dex, Sky Captain’s trusted right-hand man and technological expert, is the no nonsense type of sidekick character who, instead of being strictly comic relief, actually serves a purpose and is as heroic in his own way as the main character. Jolie’s Franky is the requisite rival to Joe’s affections that doesn’t realistically stand a chance against the leading lady, but helps out however she can when Sky Captain and friends get in a pickle. Besides that, what guy in his right mind doesn’t find Angelina Jolie wearing an eye patch and a skin-tight naval uniform both charmingly campy and sexy at the same time?

I realize that the style in which Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow was made is not going to appeal to everyone, but for me it worked wonderfully. This is the film that, given the budget and technology, Disney’s The Rocketeer should have been, although I admit that I enjoyed that film a great deal too. For his first major motion picture, Kerry Conran has hit one out of the park as far as I’m concerned; Sky Captain is a singular vision that has the creative energy to let audiences’ minds wander and wonder along with the characters, all while entertaining, thrilling, and making us smile along the way. Go ahead…try not to grin even a little bit when you hear, ‘Alert the Amphibious Squadron!’…I dare you.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Video
Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow is presented in an anamorphic transfer at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 for its arrival to DVD. The resulting transfer is very good and suffers from very few, minor problems, such as a degree of blurriness from time to time that has nothing to do with the style of the film, and edge enhancement that is visible in very few places, but otherwise it contains no visible artefacts or blemishes. Most importantly, however, is that the transfer suffers none of the effects that would take away from the experience created by the filmmakers by their use of stylized lighting and the near Technicolor way of colouring the film to give it a lush and old style feel. Overall, Paramount has delivered a near reference quality video transfer for the picture.

Audio
Paramount Home Entertainment has presented the DVD of Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track in French with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Although a DTS 5.1 track would have been nice, the supplied Dolby Digital 5.1 track is as action packed as the movie itself with great use of the surround and LFE channels and features clear dialogue from the centre channel resulting in a near reference quality audio experience. You’ll swear you are in the cockpit of Joe’s fighter yourself as he whizzes above the streets of New York City dodging giant robots or is found plunging his fighter plane into the ocean depths.

Not usually known for this type of high octane music, Edward Shearmur’s score is one of the most rousing and exciting that I have heard in quite a long time, fitting perfectly within the confines of the film and almost becoming another character up on the screen. This is easily one of the most promising scores that I have heard from a relatively young composer since David Arnold’s work on Stargate in 1994. Hopefully he will continue to mature and provide more scores of this type in the years to come.

Extras
Paramount Home Entertainment has supplied Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow with a package that features two commentary tracks, a behind-the-scenes featurette in two parts and Kerry Conran’s original six minute Sky Captain short that sparked interest in making the full length film in the first place.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
The first commentary track on the disc features producer Jon Avnet as he discusses the ins and outs of producing the film and his insights as the film’s main producer. The second track features director and writer Kerry Conran and the visual effects team of Steve Yamamoto and Darin Hollings who were behind the amazing digital sets and other effects work on the picture. Both tracks are entertaining and informative concerning the film, but each offer a different perspective on the process altogether. Avnet’s views come from his long career in Hollywood as not only a producer, but as a director of several films as well. The fact that this is Conran’s first feature length, major motion picture, help form his take on the process from an entirely different perspective and also come from a more hands-on and technical viewpoint where the film is concerned; this is after all a film that he has been planning and wishing to make for several years.

The next extra is a two-part, approximately one hour, behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and the digital wizardry involved in bringing the world of Sky Captain to life entitled, ‘Brave New World’. The first part of the featurette focuses its attention on how the film came to be, featuring home video of Conran working out of his apartment with his personal computer. It also features producer Jon Avnet, Conran and his brother Kevin among others, discussing the casting, pre-production and filming of the live action pieces to the film. Part two of the featurette turns its attention to the post-production side of making the film, including the extensive storyboarding and visual effects work needed to pull everything off with the feature before ending with the crew viewing the completed film for the first time, just days before its theatrical premiere. Besides the curious decision to separate what is basically a one hour long featurette into two parts, the piece is a very good and in depth look at what it took to bring Sky Captain to the big screen.

The second featurette on the disc, ‘The Art of World of Tomorrow’, is a relatively quick six minute look at the design process of the film that includes the sets, machinery and costumes used in the film, hosted by production designer Kevin Conran. Also included is Kerry Conran’s original, six minute short that first caught the eye of producer Jon Avnet and was the catalyst for making the picture. The short is virtually shot-for-shot, exactly the same as the first six minutes of the actual feature film and is interesting from a perspective of seeing just how much of Conran’s original vision remained within the finished product while going through the Hollywood machine to get the movie produced.

The rest of the extras are rounded out with a gag reel of the actors working in front of blue screen and deleted/extended scenes that were wisely cut or replaced within the film. Also included are four trailers, both pre-menu and selectable from the special features menu, that include Alfie, SpongeBob Squarepants: The Movie, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, and Without a Paddle.

The two commentaries and the hour long featurette really make the special features on this disc and anyone interested in the work behind Sky Captain should find their fill, but the rest of the features seem more like icing on an already rich cake. Overall, Paramount has provided the film with a very good and plentiful package of extras that fans of the film should enjoy.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Overall
Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow is a fun ride that perfectly harkens back to the serials of the '30s and '40s, bringing along with it all of the exciting cliff-hangers and innocent humour that those films delivered a couple of generations ago. Paramount's DVD presentation of the film is a very nice effort with near reference quality video and audio complimented by extra features that include a couple of decent commentary tracks that go into great detail about the movie and a few featurettes that really let loose the magic behind the making of this unique and special effects filled picture. I had a great time watching Sky Captain and can easily recommend it and the DVD for the entire family to enjoy.


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