Urban Cinefile
"Hollywood is a place where people from Iowa mistake each other for stars."  -Fred Allen
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Strange, giant, robotic alien forms fly in formation over New York, landing and striding through the streets, crushing cars and breaking buildings... it's the sign of ominous things to come. Famous scientists around the world have mysteriously disappeared and Chronicle reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) is determined to get the story so she convinces her reluctant ex boyfriend, ace aviator and leader of a small army for hire, Jo 'Sky Captain' Sullivan (Jude Law) to take her on the investigation. Risking their lives as they travel to exotic places around world, the fearless duo have to find and stop the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier), the evil mastermind behind a plot to destroy the earth. Aided by Francis 'Franky' Cook (Angelina Jolie), commander of an all-female amphibious squadron, and technical genius Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), Polly and Sky Captain may be the planet's only hope.

Review by Louise Keller:
Filled with style with a capital S, Sky Captain is a joyous combo of rollicking adventure, film noir and all the gee-whizzery of high-tech innovation. Kerry Conran's fantasy with computer animation seamlessly blended with live action, is reminiscent of the kind of entertainment Saturday afternoons used to offer, with a handsome hero and glamorous blonde, who set out to defeat all evil. Add a splendid score that flies, and we are all set to enjoy an escapade the whole family will enjoy.

There are big bangs and splashy effects that take us on a frenetic underwater chase, mid-air sky battles, gigantic rampant robots and a trek through the snowy peaks of Nepal to Shangri-La. The action never stops, but at the film's heart is the endearing push-pull love relationship between Jude Law's Sky Captain and Gwyneth Paltrow's Polly. This is a case of style over substance that actually works - we are genuinely carried away by the look of the film. The style is striking - rich, sepia tones blended with a reality that is slightly ominous. When the computer graphics incorporate colour into the shadowy palette, the contrast of the aquamarine water and pink skies make a vivid statement. It's as though Indiana Jones has tripped over a band of snake-armed robots, as he makes a detour to Jurassic Park.

The chemistry between Law and Paltrow is tangible; he saves the world and she tags along. 'I can take anything you dish out,' she retorts when they crash land deep into the ocean's floor. 'Good, because that was nothing,' he replies. The best part of the script is the running gag in which Paltrow's Polly has only two frames left in her camera, and is deliberating how best to use them. Should she photograph the wonders of Shangri-La, or should she wait to see if there is a more important shot to preserve for posterity? To top it off, Polly is a little on the clumsy side when it comes to pressing buttons.

Angelina Jolie looks as though she is having a ball as black leather-clad Frankie, sporting an eye patch and a supercilious look. The implied former relationship between Frankie and Sky Captain prompts eye-rolling from the obviously jealous Polly, who finally admits to Frankie, 'She's some kind of girl!'

Sky Captain may be the beginning of a trend for computer-effects driven films, utilising actors shot on blue screen and effects / sets/ locations added later. And not unlike the film Simone, where Al Pacino's director used a computer-generated actor to star in his movies, the digitally-produced cameo of the deceased Sir Laurence Oliver is tastefully incorporated into the mix.

Take a trip with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - the characters are wholesome but never boring, the action vibrant and best of all, the film has style.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Imagine a world of tomorrow, full of yesterday. Our first reactions to Sky Captain are to its design, not its story: an airship docks at New York's Empire State building during a snow storm, but we are not used to the style of these diffused images, which seem to be glorified black and white, styled in the vein of the 40s B flick. Perilously close to allowing its style to win over its substance, Sky Captain is a remarkable film all the same, because it is unique. The story elements are not, but the storytelling is. Created first as a visual 'thing' by Kerry Conran, who spent four years creating just the first few minutes, it draws together elements from a variety of sources, from Flash Gordon to futurism.

Then came a series of well connected people who fell in love with the idea of the film, and soon it was on the way to a major movie.

But audiences don't care about what went into a film: they care about what comes out - on the screen. There are some fascinating aspects, from a graphics point of view, including the wonderfully woven production design which blends the glamour of the 40s with the dread of the 50s, the gentleness of flowing golden hair (Paltrow's) with the workmanlike bomber jacket (Law's). In fact there are even more visual references, but an essay on those will have to wait.

Style statements are everywhere, and the film's visual impact is greater than its dramatic or romantic punch, even though both are massaged for all they're worth. Gwyneth Paltrow, the ace reporter with a trusty camera, wears her long golden locks like a femme fatale, sometimes under a black fedora-style hat, tilted at the angle of greatest drama. Jude Law's Sky Captain is a combo of British wartime pilot and boys' own adventurer, while Angelina Jolie is the quirky commanding officer of a commando fleet, with a black leather eye-patch and a manner that's drier than sand and cooler than ice.

I'm not totally satisfied with the film as an emotional experience, but it is a superb production. The plot, about a mad scientist - a digitally recreated Laurence Olivier, in a touch of futurism that points to the nostalgia that drives much of the film - who sees the world's evil and wants to save it by destroying it...is not novel. It isn't meant to be. It's a device to create a fantasy that satisfies our hunger for noble acts of bravery by people like Sky Captain, our dreams of romance coming true after all obstacles, and our thirst for adventure and action in a world where the rare chance we get to see the big picture is reading great quotes by great writers while sitting on the loo.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1


(USA/UK/Italy, 2004)

CAST: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi

PRODUCER: Jon Avnet, Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Marsha Oglesby

DIRECTOR: Kerry Conran

SCRIPT: Kerry Conran


EDITOR: Sabrina Plisco

MUSIC: Ed Shearmur


RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 3, 2005

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020