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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

"Join the Resistance... The Battle for Tomorrow is About to Begin..."

Do you like science fiction, graphic novels, comic books or old movie serials? If any of those entertainment options appeal to you, I suspect this movie will also. You might ask: “But how does it appeal to the individualist?” As partial answer to that, although the film deals with calamitous events potentially affecting the entire Earth and everyone on it, actions of individuals in the private sector overwhelmingly dominate in all sides of the conflict. Politics has some presence in the movie's world, but the film portrays its States as mainly ineffectual.

After the distributor and studio logos, the credits roll over stylized period backgrounds from the late 30s to early 40s while some of the soundtrack's most triumphal instrumental music plays. When the credits finish the scene changes to a large airship – the Hindenburg III – making its way to New York City through snowfall. An oldish scientist – Dr. Vargas (Julian Curry) – peers at two vials in a cloth he holds. He puts them back in his briefcase.

The German crew of the airship prepare it for docking and moor it to the Empire State building. Dr. Vargas gives his package and a note to a porter. Vargas tells the porter to deliver them to Dr. Walter Jennings. As he walks away the porter reads the note: “Doctor Jennings, I am being followed. You must protect them. Goodbye my friend. -Vargas.” When the porter looks back, Vargas is gone. As passengers disembark to the skyscraper a gloved hand crosses out Vargas' name on a list. One name remains uncrossed: Dr. Walter Jennings.

The scene changes to show The Chronicle newspaper's massive printing operation and a copy of the day's headlines for Oct. 7, 1939. The Hindenburg III has captured the top headline. A photo shows it moored to the skyscraper after its “maiden voyage.” A story about police seeking a missing scientist: Prof. Jorge Vargas lies further down the page. The byline belongs to Polly Perkins. The story says that Prof. Vargas “mysteriously vanished.” Two other prominent scientists have also disappeared in the last three months with no resolution of their current whereabouts.

The scene changes to offices in the Chronicle building, specifically the office of Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow). Polly types her next article for the Chronicle, while its headline appears behind her over newsprint which replaces the view of the skyline from her office windows: Scientist Missing. Polly answers a call on the intercom. A package for her has arrived. At the front desk she receives the parcel. Wrapped in plain brown paper, it contains a book: Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Modern Philosophy, Book Two. A handwritten note occupies the title page: “I know who's next – meet me tonight at 6:00   Come Alone!” A movie ticket for the gallery at Radio City Music Hall also nestles inside the book's front cover.

Polly returns to her office and retrieves her camera. At the door, her editor Mr. Paley (Michael Gambon) seems to worry for her safety. Leaving for her meeting she reassures him saying “it's only a movie” and “I'll bring you some popcorn.” Arriving at the theater gallery, she takes a seat as its screen shows Dorothy's encounter with munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. As Glinda the good witch arrives in her floating ball to speak with Dorothy, Dr. Walter Jennings (Trevor Baxter) tells Polly how he was one of seven scientists in a secret research facility: “unit 11,” located outside of Berlin before the first World War. Jennings tells her that he is the only one left and says “He's coming for me.” As sirens start up and the theater begins emptying, Polly asks who's coming. Jennings replies “Totenkopf.”

Jennings leaves with the crowd as Polly picks up a blueprint which Jennings seems to have dropped on the floor while in his theater seat. After a quick glance at it, Polly also leaves the theater, joining the crowds outside. The crowds point into the sky at giant flying robots soaring over the city. Polly calls Editor Paley asking him to dig up information on both Jennings and Totenkopf. She drops the phone and runs into the street taking photos of the now landed and advancing giant robots. The police and their full-auto Thompsons seem to make little impression on the towering metal automatons. A radio dispatcher sends out a call using an emergency protocol for Sky Captain. In his airplane Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) responds saying: “I'm on my way.” His wing mounted machine guns also do little to stop the robots, but his plane attracts their energy beam return fire. When Sky Captain attaches an explosive charge to one of the robot's legs, it falls. The remaining robots appear to answer a recall signal, when they lift off again taking to the skies.

As a collage of newspaper headlines tells the story of world wide attack in newsreel style, a voice over says that uncovering the meaning of these mysterious events rests in the hands of the “elite mercenary forces of Sky Captain and his army for hire.” Sky Captain stops to meet with his technical expert/sidekick Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) back at his base. Also at the base Dex tests out a hand held ray gun, which makes a molten hole in thick metal. Dex gets the assignment of finding out what makes the giant robot – which Sky Captain felled in New York – tick. When returning to his office, Sky Captain discovers Polly. In the past they were lovers, but parted on less than perfect terms. Now she wants to team up to discover what lies behind the missing scientists, the strange blueprint and the giant robots.

That's enough of the story to introduce most of the main characters, show their relationships and give a taste of the storyline. You might wonder how Laurence Olivier got included in the cast of a movie made in 2004, or what Angelina Jolie might have to do with the movie, but you should watch the film to find out. The flavor of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Captain Marvel and many other movie serials pervades this great movie.

Although it was the collaborative effort of many, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow came from the vision of one man: writer and director Kerry Conran. Almost the entire film was made in front of blue screens. Computer graphics supplies almost everything but the actors. If you watch the movie on DVD, give the special features which cover the making of the movie a view too.

Do you expect the world to be an exciting place with adventure around every corner? Do you think that science and technology open up chances for new experiences which you'd love to explore? Me too. That's why I liked this movie so much. In addition to showing how well-styled ordinary things once looked, it also supplies a vision of what life can be like: an exciting adventure with other interesting people. If all that sounds appealing to you, then I think you will enjoy Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

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Full Screen DVD

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