Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Directed by Kerry Conran

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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When New York City is attacked by flying robots, Sky Captain (Jude Law) and an intrepid female reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), attempt to discover who has sent them, which leads the pair first to Tibet and then to a mysterious island inhabited by a variety of strange creatures.

Kerry Conran's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a visually delightful, wonderfully exciting, and charmingly playful film. With its evil scientist, deadly robots, dashing protagonist, perky love interest, and menacing villains, the plot resembles that of a serial from the 1930s or 1940s and conveys the same feelings of fun excitement and exotic adventure such serials had, although always in such a way that the movie remains unique. The director has created a truly exhilarating and spectacular tale.

The film is set, apparently, in 1939, but it is not the 1939 of history. Sky Captain's world is, instead, that of serials, movies, and comic books, and it is filled with a variety of marvelous inventions and dangerous, impossible beings like those that can be found in such works. By so evoking these old serials, films, and comics, Conran reminds the moviegoer familiar with them of all the excitement they previously produced for him. Even if he is not familiar with these sources, however, the film, by arousing awarenesses of the exotic, the wild, and the daring, still conjures up a world of such vibrancy and audacity that the viewer is able to enjoy a stirring sense of adventure.

In fact, the director shows real inventiveness in his creation of his fictional world. The movie's sets are exclusively computer generated and all are wonderfully well crafted. The images are soft and the colors subdued. Though the designs for the sets, costumes, and props are inspired by styles from the 1930s and 1940s, the director has not created a mere pastiche. Sky Captain is always visually distinctive. Conran reinvents and recombines the images upon which he draws with remarkable creativity. From its ornithopters, flying robots, and floating airfields to its mysterious Tibetan paradise, sunken Atlantean ruins, and island of monstrosities, the movie is filled with a variety of breathtaking touches.

In addition to drawing upon the narrative devices, scenery, and props employed in the 1930s and 1940s, Conran has also made use of several thematic and visual motifs from that period. At one point, for example, when the first wave of flying robots appears over New York City, he shows a number of hands rising up together to point towards the sky. Elsewhere, he depicts landscapes on which lines of latitude and longitude have been drawn, radio signals being emitted from antennae as circles of light, and a huge radio tower perched atop a globe. Such touches add a nostalgic charm to the movie, but, more than that, they contribute to its distinctive look.

Finally, I should add that the actors, without exception, endow their characters with whatever qualities happen to be appropriate. Paltrow gives Polly a gutsy, slightly unscrupulous charm. Law shows us Sky Captain's daring. Angelina Jolie imparts to her character, Captain Franky Cook, the commander of a floating airfield, a bold, sensuous audacity. All contribute positively to the film's enjoyableness.

Conran has created a delightful, unique, and exciting movie. Few adventure films evince the presence of an intelligent maker, but Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow does.

Review by Keith Allen

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