Judge Patrick Naugle would love to film his entire life in front of a green screen.
The world will tremble.
Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the PG-13 rating and Young Sherlock Holmes and computer generated effects, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow will, if nothing else, be remembered as the first movie ever produced with almost 100% CGI backgrounds, foregrounds, and any other grounds you can think of. [Editor's Note: Several other films using a similar process were filmed around the same time, though Sky Captain was the first released in the United States.] Starring Oscar nominee Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley), Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love), and Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted)—geez, that's a lotta Oscars!—Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow makes its DVD debut care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
When the world is in trouble, who ya gonna call? No, not those guys…the marvelous, dashing, and altogether hunky Sky Captain! When giant robots suddenly overrun the city of New York, the only ones who can stop them is a vivacious reporter named Polly Perkins (Paltrow) and the swaggering, heroic pilot Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan (Law). Trailing the robots, the duo discovers that their master is a mysterious phantom named Totenkopf with an ingenious plan that threatens every man, woman, and child on planet earth. It will take all of Sky Captain's cunning abilities—as well as Polly's dutiful photography skills—to stop the madman's plans for global destruction.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a movie unlike anything you've ever seen before. Actually, that's not true: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is like a lot of things you've seen before, only done in a fresh new way that makes you think it's something completely original. It's a movie of breathtaking originality that is firmly planted in your memories of yesterday. And am I starting to sound like a new age self-help book yet?
In the scope of the movies, the entire package of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is brand new—there has never been anything like it on the silver screen before. Yet the whole film is comprised of ideas, elements, and themes taken from the early part of the 1900s, especially the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Mark my words: it's a movie that will pave the way for how films are produced in the coming decades.
There is a wonderful imagination at play in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow—it's like watching someone dream a movie to life. Though the story of the film is fun—giant robots attempt to take over the earth!—it is really the visuals that sold me on this flick. Director Kerry Conran (making his feature film debut) has made a movie of sheer excitement and joy—it's a throwback to those old serials that were popular when our dads were kids (and it's a distant cousin of Steven Spielberg's 1981 action-packed Raiders of the Lost Ark). It's been quite a long time since I enjoyed a movie as much as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (well, I also really liked The Notebook, though I felt it could have used giant robots).
Conran conceived Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow on his Apple computer as a six-minute demonstration that proved a film like this could be made. Paramount was brought in as the distributor, backing a talented cast including Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Bai Ling, and, rising from the dead like some ghoulish zombie, Sir Laurence Olivier (RIP: 1907-1989, resurrected 2004). The actors all know exactly how to play this material—with a knowing wink to the audience. Law is very good as the swaggering, funny Sky Captain, while Paltrow expertly fits the bill as his pain-in-the-butt love interest. Also of note is Angelina Jolie sporting an eye patch and her huge, pillow-like lips. Her role in the film is rather inconsequential, but I didn't care—I liked looking at her lips (so sue me).
The movie's visuals are straight out of a dream or really vivid comic book. Everything is a little fuzzy, which seems to fit the mood. The colors—lots of gold, browns and blues—and the creations are wildly original. I cannot express enough how unique this movie feels. As we become more and more used to the usual drivel Hollywood releases weekly into theaters, a movie like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow seems like an instant breath of fresh air. It's worthy of your time as a new cinematic discovery. Though the film was not a smash hit during its theatrical run, I believe it will garner a vast and appreciative audience on DVD. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a wonderfully exciting movie to be savored, an abundance of light, color, imagery, and performance that is not to be missed.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is presented in a very attractive looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (expanded slightly from its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio). Needless to say, this is a flawless looking transfer. Paramount has put forth a great amount of energy and work to make sure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is in excellent shape. The colors—lots of gold, silver, and brown—are all well rendered (the slight fuzziness and sometimes bleached look in the image is an intentional decision by the filmmakers). This truly is a film unlike any I've seen before—the way that it has been constructed and presented is truly amazing. There is also a separate pan-and-scan version available on DVD, though it's not recommended.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Much like the video transfer, this sound mix is superior in every way. There are many, many instances where all of the speakers are fully engaged—robots crashing, planes zooming, and bullets flying through the air. In fact, there is hardly a moment when some speaker isn't spewing forth an effect or music cue. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles, as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix in French.
This "special collector's edition" of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is packed with some goodies fans will love to get their hands on. Starting off the disc are two separate commentary tracks: the first is by producer Jon Avnet and the second is with writer/director Kerry Conran and the visual effects crew (including production designer Kevin Conran, animation director Steve Yamamoto, and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings). Both of these tracks lean heavily on effects/production stories and info—since the film is one big special effect, that's not very surprising. However, there is some discussion about the casting, the screenplay, and the specific look of the film. Taken together, these two tracks should give fans an insight into how Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow came together.
Next up is a nearly fifty minute long documentary titled "Brave New World," which is broken up into two chapters. While much of this feature's ideas and themes are covered in the commentary tracks, it's still nice to see how the film was shot. It's interesting to note that the whole thing was produced on one soundstage green screen—though the film takes place all over the world, the actors never crossed a county line. The featurette "Brave New World" is complemented by "The Art of World of Tomorrow," an eight-minute promo about costume/production designer Kevin Conran's work on the film.
Rounding out the supplements is the original six-minute demonstration film that was used as the basis for the feature-length movie, a few deleted/extended scenes ("The Conveyor Belt" and "Totenkopf's Torture Room"), a humorous gag reel, and some previews for other Paramount DVDs and films.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was one of the most fun, if not best, movies of 2004. Everyone involved should be proud that they've tried to something different and original, and pulled it off with a minimum of hitches. Paramount's work on this disc is very good—great audio and video and a few meaty supplements.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a movie straight out of yesterday and tomorrow! Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Writer/Director Kerry Conran, Production Designer Kevin Conran, Animation Director Steve Yamamoto, and Visual Effects Supervisor Darin Hollings
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