Film review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

28 November 2004


March of the Robots The talent Overall, pretty but impractical. And the carrier is too.

By now you already know the story - the practically-setless bluescreen production, and so on. Just as television at one point become increasingly preoccupied with being about television, this is a film which more than anything else is about other films. Everything that's good here is, quite deliberately, taken from elsewhere. One might wonder just what is left for the film-maker to do. I know I did.

Our stars have a tough time of it. With the near-total lack of visual cueing caused by the bluescreen shooting, they're given almost nothing to work off except each other, and they really aren't up to the job; even Angelina Jolie, who's done a fair bit of bluescreen work before, miscues all too often in her relatively few scenes. Law and Paltrow are clearly floundering.

Conran only has one joke, and it's "our heroes do something other than what the thirties-film model would expect them to do". It's funny the first time, but rapidly gets old, and at that point there's still an hour and a half of film left. The problem is that, once the film's declared itself "knowing" and ironic as well as parasitic, nothing within it can be taken seriously any more. The surprising success of Pirates of the Caribbean should have told Hollywood what years of disappointing receipts had not, that the fans who actually still enjoy the original films, of whom there are surprisingly many about, don't like to see them laughed at. Laughed with, yes, that's another matter.

This is one case where having a separate writer and director - in other words, a writer less enamoured of the director's vision - might have helped substantially. A different writer might even have given the actors something to work with to help them build some character; as it is, the real hero is the sidekick Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), who is the only character allowed (presumably because he's set up as the comic relief) to do much that's useful. Even then it's offscreen...

The basic problem, though, is that there's really nothing original here; it's pretty, and I certainly won't deny that the special effects work quite well (apart from the partial colour desaturation), but it's all surface flash, that falls apart as soon as one scratches it. It's really quite fitting that the enemy our heroes spend the film chasing is in fact just a sham.

I suspect we're going to see a lot more of this sort of film. It's a fair bit cheaper to make (IMDB says $40 million, compared with $66 million for Hellboy and $125 million for The Day After Tomorrow), and certainly a lot faster to make (a total of 26 days of filming), then conventional fantastic films. But until we get a director who can actually use these new capabilities, rather than just indulging himself by copying everything he can find in the film library, I'm afraid we're unlikely to see anything worth watching.

I'm just waiting for Conran to team up with Stephen Sommers, who's happily remaking other classic films of the thirties and forties just to prove how much better the originals were (and who's been given the new Flash Gordon to play with)... They'll probably remake War of the Worlds.

Oh. Wait. They already are. Spielberg's doing it. With Tom Cruise.