...busting up my brains for the words

Friday, October 01, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

As I'd mentioned a coupla days ago, I been fienin' for a movie.
Somehow I'd managed to remain ignorant of details concerning Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I suppose the real clincher for my committing to see it was when I heard Emmet the Unblinking Eye on Hugh Hewitt's show recently. He knows a thing or two about movies. Emmet had mentioned that this movie was loaded with sly references to vintage movies.
Add to this mix the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow stars and some very interesting images had leaked their way to me through tv ads and such and then it becomes a question of how could I possibly be stopped from seeing Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?

So I go to the Mann St. Louis Park Cinema to see this movie and I'm starting to get kind of excited to see this thing.
The very first image thrown up on the screen is of a dirigible flying in the fog over New York City. Okay. That's it, I'm hooked.
So within the earliest moments, it is understood that this movie is the answer to that classic question; Why can't they make great movies like they used to? And if we are to pinpoint what year they used to make great movies in Hollywood, that would be 1939. This was the phenomenal year in Hollywood when so many amazing and perfect movies were made. One of the most stellar movies to come out of Hollywood in that magic year was The Wizard of Oz. And there are several references to this film here. But there are gentle references to films of other years, including Lost Horizon, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still and of course the Flash Gordon serials.
One of the first elements to hit the viewer of this movie is the faux chiaroscuro lighting. I was impressed that the filmmakers had set out to make a movie that was shot and lit like the classics of German Expressionism. But I was distracted by the fact that they didn't get it exactly right. Yes, the screen is ominously dark and the eye probes the dark corners looking for secrets. But there are some shots of a 1939 Ford Standard Coup cruising down the street whereby the image was unfortunately CGI, and obviously so.
Oh sure, the film is a synthesis and should not be held to a standard of historicism. Actually, that's one of the interesting elements of this movie that makes it work so well. During the first half hour or so, I was engaged in trying to understand what timeframe I was supposed to be placed in. That dirigible is called the Hindenberg III and it's mooring at the top of the Empire State Building. Okay....time is clearly being mixed.
The gigantic invader robots have skulls etched on their breastplates. I was under the impression that they must be German Nazi weapons. But I was wrong.
When that army of robot invaders attacks I could swear I heard the theremin of The Day the Earth Stood Still. A gigantic neon sign atop a building is trucked into by the camera. Looked like a shot from Citizen Kane to me and I was surprised when the shot was not pursued by threading directly through the sign.
I don't want to spoil this movie for those readers who have not yet seen it. So I won't give away the plot except to say that it is big in scope. Save the world big. Also, in some weird way, Sir Laurence Olivier stars in it. I didn't understand that I was looking at Olivier while I was watching the film. But there he is, in the credits. This, despite the fact that Olivier passed away in 1989. A strange reference in the film makes Olivier's character, the arch villain Dr. Totenkopf, to be the Wizard of Oz, as seen in that movie as nothing more than a giant head.
Charming, like those vintage Hollywood movies, is the love story contained in the story. We know that Polly Perkins and Sky Captain love each other from the get-go when they speak one another's names in a dangerous encounter with invading robots.
Then, throughout the film, a nice level of tension and surface conflict is maintained between the two...little clues of the deeper love rewarding us to hang in there and believe they can make it.

This movie delivered the goods. I'll be ready for the next Sky Captain movie if and when that ever happens. I hope it does.
In the meanwhile, I plan on seeing this movie again sometime. Hey! It's got robots with rays shooting out of their eyes and Gwyneth Paltrow. Just try and stop me.


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