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SKY CAPTAIN and the WORLD OF TOMORROW - 2004
Mandalay / Paramount Pictures
Rated: UK, USA: PG
There's the city. There's a Graf Zeppelin, Hindenberg III, which can only mean that
the Germans came clean about the destruction of the first Hindenberg being
due to highly flammable chemicals that were used to dope the skin of the
zeppelin, and not some backwash about the Hydrogen causing such a conflagration.
Clearly this is an alternate history movie.
We are treated to a scene where the Hindenberg docks. An elderly man is aboard and he
appears troubled. He gives a note to one of the stewards, asking the young
man to deliver it. It's a cry for help.
Now we visit the massive building with a massive lobby into which walks chipper - yet
city-wise - newspaper reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth
Paltrow: SE7EN, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY). Polly types on her typewriter in her
massive office (how massive? It's larger than some mansions) and we are treated to a huge backdrop of moving type. The
back of her office becomes what she does. She writes stories and they
get front page. Despite the fact that Polly and everyone and everything
in this movie looks hand tinted with a favor toward sepia tone, it works
and is captivating as well. At this point you are wondering where the
first time Director, Kerry Conran, is taking us. It looks like fun and
you are ready to go.
the note and meets a very frightened man, Dr. Walter Jennings (Trevor
Baxter: THE BODY SNATCHER [TV], FEET FOREMOST [TV]) the scientist
from the blimp. He reveals that, 30 years ago, 6 scientists worked in
Germany on an "unspeakable project" for a very evil man, Dr.
Totenkopf. The news of the day is that 5 renown scientists world wide
have been kidnapped. Nobody knows why but everyone is pretty sure who:
Dr. Willams is terribly frightened and Polly is too dim to understand why, so he spells
it out for her. "Don't you see? I am the sixth scientist!"
At that moment, the air raid sirens go off.
From the sky comes dark forms, stopping the city's citizens in their tracks. Suddenly
the city is under siege and perky Polly Perkins is reckless enough to
get right under foot of the towering behemoth robots that come from the
sky and march along the city streets. She tears her skirt for better speed
and runs between their strides, not even attempting to run for safety.
Polly wants her story and her photographs. The robots tear hell out of
everything in their path. Wow! These robots! I mean, I've seriously and
always wanted to see scenes like this in a movie! Giant robots resolutely
striding through New York City!
This looks like a job for Sky Captain and the call goes out. Sky Captain comes
roaring out of the skies in his fighter plane, ready to do battles of
Unfortunately, there isn't much a single plane can do against a mob of monster robots.
He defeats one handily, but the rest get away.
In the aftermath of the attack, and they've been going on world wide, Joe 'Sky Captain'
Sullivan (Jude Law: eXistenZ, LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) returns to his rather public lair, just over the mountains from New York City where there is an incredible airbase of, again, retro/future
technology. Here we meet the inventor that makes all of this possible.
His name is Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi: THE
VIRGIN SUICIDES, THE GIFT)
and at the moment we meet him, and throughout the movie, we come to understand
that Dex is the kind of extraordinary genius that would give Einstein
and Hawking a run for their money. For he not only thinks through phenomenally
difficult feats of science, he can engineer and invent the machines that
can overcome those roadblocks. Dex's inventions create a brave new future
far and above anything Edison ever dreamed of. For this, he gets a "Good
boy, Dex," from Captain Joe. Understand that Dex isn't rich. He isn't
even famous. And throughout this film he braves things that even sends
Sky Captain running for his plane. But Sky Captain is handsome and gets
the girl. He gets all the girls. Even the one-eyed girls. Dex don't care.
All he wants in life is to hear a "Good boy, Dex," from his
Sky Captain. And because he's so god damn good, he hears it an awful lot.
I thought back to all of the movies SKY CAPTAIN and the WORLD OF TOMORROW references in its tone and plot. I remember an awful lot of "Good man!"
Good man, Watson!
Good man, Reynolds!
Good man this and good man that. Dex gets a Good boy. You get the feeling that Joe Sullivan thinks of Dex as his pet dog or something even though Dex is clearly braver and smarter than he!
The movie begins to weigh down with the start of a bickering contest between Polly
and Joe. Seems they have a history together and with Polly riding in his
plane, Joe has a hard time doing anything heroic. But how they bicker!
The movie bickering could and should have snappy dialogue like that found between
Indiana Jones and Marion, but it doesn't. Polly gets whiny and Joe gets distracted.
Meanwhile, Dex braves the heavy onslaught of another wave of giant robots, led by
the mysterious woman in black (Ling Bai: THE CROW, THE BREED), and though
he puts up a tenaciously brave fight, is captured - or perhaps killed.
There have been all kinds of merry mishaps occurring up to now, but here
is where the plot takes a turn and the story begins. Joe has to rescue
Dex and stop the evil Dr. Totenkopf.
So this is the future of another path. More fantasy fictions than science fiction, but all can
be forgiven. After all, everything is a monstrous size because miniaturization
hasn't happened yet. The world is a marvelous place. Ah yes. A wonderful
place of technology both primitive and far in advance of our own. Where
there are only two races on the earth. Caucasians and Asians.
All the Caucasians are heroic and, for the first time, having a British accent doesn't make
you evil. It makes you stoic! Having a German accent doesn't make you
evil, it makes you very smart, though easily led astray. Being an American
makes you smart and heroic but it won't get you the girl. I know that
Joe Sullivan is supposed to be American, but Jude Law, an otherwise excellent
actor, kept slipping into his English accent and Director Conran forgot
to pull him back out.
As Joe and Polly travel the world trying to track down Dr. Totenkopf (thanks
to Dex's ingenious tracking and directions. Good boy, Dex!), we
meet Capt. Francesca 'Franky' Cook (Angelina Jolie: THE BONE COLLECTOR, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER). She runs a British aircraft carrier fleet of the sky: Massive, prop driven aircraft carriers that tool around
above the clouds and out of site of the world below. They are top secret and
one of Dex's many inventions! Holy crap! Damn good boy, Dex! I'm buying
you a slushie!
Dr. Totenkopf, an eco-terrorist, must be destroyed before he destroys the world. Never
fear! SKY CAPTAIN is on the job, though muddled by the constant harping of Polly Perkins.
There are some excellent scenes and moments that will blow you away in SKY CAPTAIN.
They are all special effects, but no less amazing for it, even with the
SFX savvy audiences of today. The fact that only white folks are good
people will wear away at you, though, especially when you get the tubby Arab who
is there for comedy relief and the insidious Asians. This especially comes
home if, as I was, you are with a group of your friends and many of them
are Asian. Several squirmy moments there.
When Star Wars came out, it all took place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far,
far away. You could believe that, with all the thousands of inhabited
planets out there, some may have only white folks. I mean, there were
so many aliens to choose from anyway. The token black guy came in the
second movie but that was passable too.
When RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK came out, the Egyptian man was comedy relief,
but he was also smart, brave, and quick - saving Indiana's life a number
of times. The Black African sea Captain was also a good guy. The Nazi's
were the bad guys but not all the white folks were bad. The one lone French
guy was also bad, but ... not all the white folks were bad.
What I'm trying to say here is, You walk out of the movie feeling a little creepy
that SKY CAPTAIN and the
WORLD OF TOMORROW depicts a world of Hindenbergs, German Scientists,
no dawn of a World War (or the evil that propagated it), and a world of righteous, intelligent white folks. All the
non-whites fall into the categories of unkempt and comical, untrustworthy,
or downright murderous. But this isn't a galaxy far, far away: its supposed
to be earth. It's like watching a movie where the Third Reich won.
Yet SKY CAPTAIN and the WORLD OF TOMORROW has so many great things
going for it. Such retro/history movies have been attempted before - THE
ROCKETEER for example - but never with such verve and on such a grand
scale. But you don't have to be a bleeding heart to walk away with a bad
taste in your mouth, or even if you are a Redneck Goth like myself. If the
movie goes into sequels, I'm sure they'll toss a "Lando Calrissian" type in there
for the second one. Although, this being the 21st Century, you'd think
we were finally past the age of tokenism.
Despite its greater promise, it gets a Three Shriek Girl.
copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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