Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: Ug




Every once in a while a film comes along that challenges our basic assumptions about the human condition and makes us reconsider our place in the cosmos. The new film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is not that movie, but it does raise some troubling questions and suggest at least a few equally disturbing answers.

Sky Captain is not one of those old-fashion films that rely on character development or plot. Its two main characters are so wooden that you could build a birdhouse out of them and the storyline is toilet paper thin. The film is largely an excuse to display a weird mix of special effects that evoke a futuristic film noir.

No one much pays attention when a handful of famous scientists start disappearing, but after an army of giant robots marches through New York the call goes out to Sky Captain (Jude Law, Cold Mountain), evidently the country’s only homeland security. The only other person in the world appears to be a bossy, career-minded reporter named Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), who invariably has an on-again off-again love affair with Cap.

Come to find out, all these egghead scientists had worked for Dr. Totenkopf, a World War I German scientist. Totenkopf apparently believed that the human species was destined to self-destruct, and created a robot horde to enforce his dominance throughout the world.

The rest of the plot dissolves into meaningless chatter and the film is only good when it inspires stupid gasps of astonishment, but to be fair Sky Captain does look good for about 20 minutes. Washed in silver light and ripping off a rich dung heap of material from amazingly varied sources, Sky Captain wants to be just cheap, fun entertainment.

A lot of machines worked overtime to create this film, and we owe it to them to give Sky Captain a chance, even if it means jettisoning some of our higher reasoning functions. The film has continuity problems of the sort that would tend to bother grown adults and some species of super monkeys, so to really enjoy Sky Captain you need to reach back into that dumb teenager you used to be… you know, the inner idiot who enjoys the Dumb and Dumber films and The Man Show.

That’s it. Much better. It is so cool when, like, the robots fly into Manhattan. That was so cool. And the super assassin chick? Totenkopf’s assistant? She was cool, too. Yeah. But I’m not sure about Angelina Jolie faking an English accent and some of the movie looks way fake. It gets sort of dumb the way they put a silver screen over the computer animation. I mean, we can almost see the pixels.

Ok, push back to the intellectual level of an average German shepard or Fox executive. At this stage Sky Captain’s special effects seem more seamless. Boom splash! Good! Ha, Angelina Jolie has an eye patch! F-u-n-n-y! But me not like Polly or Cap. They’re stupid! Hate them! When they fly near buildings I chant: Crash! Crash! Crash! Burn and die! Ha!

(Okay, okay: the characters are stupid, wooden and offensively clichéd. They are obviously ripped off from comic books and bad science fiction pulp stories, but these sources are in many ways more nuanced and interesting. In a way it’s fun to try to identify the things Sky Captain steals from other places and determine how the filmmakers have misrepresented, abused and savaged them. This activity distracts you from wishing Cap and Polly would get eaten by a giant computer-generated ostrich or crash into a mountaintop.)

But imagine how it would appear to a single-celled organism, a protococcus say. Spiraling back to the basic form of life, feeling the burdens of analytic thought burn away, Sky Captain appears as blinks of bright light and loud noises. The fight scenes no longer appear to be re-coded versions of Star Wars and the relentless cornball lines are sensed as a unified field of pure consciousness.

Angelina Jolie is no more offensive than peanut butter, and it does not bother you when she whooshes out of her ejector seat while barking some terrible line in an even worse faux Brit accent. “Jolly good!” she says, and you don’t feel that special sensation of tin foil on tooth fillings that shudders through me. Visions of Sky Captain’s burning plane do not fill your simple body with even a faint flutter of joy and you don’t care that the filmmakers have calculatingly stolen and ruined many of your cherished childhood figures.

The movie’s sounds and fury signify nothing, just as they do to you and I, but we wouldn’t mourn the waste of the film as protococcuses, wouldn’t feel bad that a million megawatt engine has been used to power a penlight of an idea.


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