Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Kerry Conran, USA, 2004
Posted: September 19,
Where are the teeming masses? Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World
of Tomorrow opens in New York City. The year is 1939, and we see the
Hindenburg III docking atop the Empire State Building. What we don’t see,
however, are the millions of inhabitants occupying one of the most populous
cities in the world. Apparently, the world of tomorrow has a very low
population density. Instead, the first-time director's sights are narrowly
focused on establishing a retro-futuristic setting: robots and machines
straight out of a Max Fleischer cartoon, all sleek lines and cyclopic
death-ray beams, and, of course, dirigibles and hovering air strips. Conran
also favors analog gadgets, mad scientists and clearly delineated moral
But as New York's puzzling lack of residents makes clear, there’s simply not
enough humanity in this computer-generated ode to old-time adventure
serials. Every living, breathing, carbon-based life form on display has a
specific, plot-driven purpose that, once completed, renders it obsolete for
the rest of the film. And it’s that lack of people, or messy, unpredictable
human behavior, that is a major reason for Sky Captain’s lack of
vitality. Everything has a canned, static quality. Even the melding of
CGI-effects and human reaction misfires at times, as when Gwyneth Paltrow’s
ambitious news reporter Polly Perkins falls “on cue,” with large robot feet
crashing down around her.
Conran doesn’t so much fashion a fantastic alternate reality as he plays
back an action-oriented computer game as filtered through his mind’s eye.
The plot moves through levels conquered by conveniently left behind
documents and torn sections of maps -- passkeys for his avatars to continue
their quest. And much like a linear computer game, once a level has been
conquered, there’s no going back, because there’s no “there” to go back to.
We rush from New York to Sky Captain’s nearby base/science laboratory, to
snowy Tibet, a high-altitude sequence, an aquatic milieu and finally a
climatic showdown at the villain's highly mechanized lair. These
environments, while beautifully rendered in a soft focus, feel disconnected
from a larger whole.
The plot, for its part, is stock Saturday morning cliffhanger, of the kind
that was popular in the era in which the film takes place. Joe "Sky Captain"
Sullivan (Jude Law) is a flying ace who reluctantly joins forces with old
flame Polly to prevent an evil scientist named Dr. Totenkopf from -- what
else? -- destroying the world. He swoops around in a versatile (and
apparently self-repairing) P-40 Warhawk, souped-up with underwater
functionality by his buddy Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi). An eyepatch-wearing
Angelina Jolie joins in the fun as amphibious squadron leader ally Franky
Cook, and Bai Ling serves as Totenkopf’s mysterious, robot army-leading
All of the elements for a carefree, entertaining romp would seem to be in
place, but Sky Captain is hamstrung, ironically, by its slick,
retro-looking technology. Everything’s too clean. There are no dents or
scuffmarks, none of the tactile grittiness that three-dimensional objects in
the real world exhibit. It’s obvious that a computer calculated the precise
mathematical formulas that display the spiffy-looking robots and nifty ray
guns, and such obvious artificiality severely dampens Sky Captain’s
ability to offer a fully immersive, engaging tale.
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.