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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (***)
Directed by Kerry Conran
Written by Kerry Conran
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Principal Cast
Gwyneth Paltrow -- Polly Perkins
Jude Law -- Joe 'Sky Captain' Sullivan
Giovanni Ribisi -- Dex Dearborn
Michael Gambon -- Editor Morris Paley
Bai Ling -- Mysterious Woman
Omid Djalili -- Kaji
Laurence Olivier -- Dr. Totenkopf
Angelina Jolie -- Capt. Francesca 'Franky' Cook
Trevor Baxter -- Dr. Walter Jennings
Julian Curry -- Dr. Jorge Vargas
Peter Law -- Dr. Kessler
Jon Rumney -- German Scientist
Khan Bonfils -- Creepy
Louis Hilyer -- Executive Officer
Mark Wells -- Communications Engineer
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Every schoolboy knows the story of how Kerry Conran vanished into his basement for twenty years, and came out with six minutes of computer-generated film good enough to convince Hollywood to hand him a zillion dollars so he could make the motion picture of his dreams. Less well known are the unsung creators of the images that Conran brings to computer-generated life on the screen, illustrators for comic strips and digest science fiction magazines such as Clarence Gray, Frank R. Paul, and Ed Valigursky.

The film is set in 1939 -- we gather this from the two 1939 films that are playing at the movies, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights. The images in the film are from all over, as early as Brick Bradford and as late as Captain Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The most appealing character in the film, Dex, reads Buck Rogers comic books from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Still, the overall look of the film is 1930s.

Amazing Stories The images in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow are drawn much more from magazines than from movies. The color looks nothing like the cheap Pathecolor that graced grade B films in the 50s and was seen in a recent episode of Star Trek Enterprise. Instead, the color looks like the color in old photo magazines such as Life and National Geographic. The photography looks like magazine photography in both framing and subject matter. And the science fiction images are not the crude special effects of movie serials but the much grander images painted for 50s SF magazines.

I went into Sky Captain with high hopes. The music, which begins under the Paramount logo, set my skin a-tingle. Sadly, the movie is not as good as I had hoped -- not another Star Wars nor Raiders of the Lost Ark. Visually, it is interesting, though at times it made my eyes water. It certainly deserves credit for derivative originality, if you'll pardon the oxymoron, for bringing to movies images that have never moved before. The script is reasonably clever, the acting fine, and yet for long stretches my mind wandered. I never felt the thrill a good action movie should deliver.

A few quibbles. The idea of a Doomsday Device is from Red Alert, a 1958 Ace paperback original by Peter George, from which the film Dr. Strangelove was loosely adapted. It seems anachronistic for characters to talk about a Doomsday Device in 1939. Sky Captain's prop Spitfire flies faster and further than any jet. Radio waves reach from Tibet to New York without a comsat to bounce them off. In frozen terrain, the characters' breath does not fog. And we have the cliché of characters lifted into the air by a nearby explosion instead of smashed to pulp.

A much bigger problem is that the hero and heroine are indifferent to peril. Indiana Jones sweats blood when he is about to be crushed by a giant boulder. Sky Captain looks at a fuse running toward a pile of dynamite taller than he is and doesn't bat an eyelash. Yes, we want heroes larger than life. But we want those heroes to feel human emotion. Even Superman is vulnerable when he asks Lois Lane for a date. If our heroine isn't worried about being stepped on by a giant robot, then we are not worried either.

There is also a problem with the computer-generated universe. Even more than a plaster and wood movie set, a CGI effect must look and sound solid. Sometimes all we need is a crunch or a thud, the squeal of strained metal or the screech of brakes. We don't get that in Sky Captain. A roomful of dynamite produces a pink cloud. Planes fly into water without smashing or bouncing. Our hero hits metal with his fist and the metal is hurt more than the fist. Lara Croft, in the Tomb Raider computer games, interacts more realistically with her environment than does Sky Captain.

Eye candy. I had hoped for better.

No credit cookies, but some nice credit music.

Copyright © 2004 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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