If you love the spectacle of cinema, you’ll love “Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow”. For 106 minutes I was 7 again; fifth row centre of the ABC cinema and it was Saturday morning. I was a kid again with my nose in cheap Asimov and radio sci-fi, watching Boy’s Own cinema re-runs of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, overexcited by the world of Fritz Lang and Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons.
This is classic pre-war pulp adventure. The film oozes style, as pulses of radio waves emanate from the RKO transmitter to call Sky Captain into the fray and angular cities bristle with searchlights and German expressionist airships. Stunningly colourised Himalayan ice caves and Lost World jungles brush shoulders with cold ocean-bed seascapes. An unpretentious visual treat and yet surprisingly still glorious even on the small screen (all be it essential wide screen fodder).
Okay, so the plot is so shallow you couldn’t exactly drown in it. After New York City falls prey to a barrage of attacks by (wait for it) giant flying robots, ace reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) teams up with two-fisted pilot Captain Joe Sullivan (Jude Law, in his best role of ‘04) to fight the stylishly robotic forces of the ever-mysterious Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence “entirely made of computer graphics and stock footage” Olivier) and they bicker their way across the globe to the Mysterious Island (style) secret base and rocket ship finale. Iconography a go-go. We even get an appearance by an underused Angelina Jolie (as Captain Francesca "Franky" Cook) complete with accent crisper still than her Lara Croft and a character so cool that she gets better toys than Sky Captain himself. All the performers do a cracking job of holding character, an accomplishment itself as the entire film was unashamedly made in front of a blue screen with no physical sets and never denies it.
Surprisingly, Skycaptain also ends strongly. Action and adventure films are so common of structure nowadays that I find I can usually guess the last line and final shot. I just don’t expect directors to break formula any more, and while Skycaptain don’t exactly snap the mould it does offer up a solid ending that gives everyone a good chuckle before brushing the popcorn from our laps. Yes there is cheese, but don’t fear the cheese, embrace the cheese. In the world of ten storey robots and Wizard of Oz villains, the cheese is your friend.
All in all, good family entertainment. Even for the younger kids, who may not get the style and genre cross-references, will love the unashamed seat-of-the-rocket-pants action. Don’t forget to check out the deleted scenes and the gag reel, plus a couple of obligatory audio commentaries and a 2 part making-of featurette.
Skycaptain was a ten-year project by writer and first time director Kerry Conran, now rumoured to be in pre-production on “John Carter of Mars” and appropriately bringing his style to this Edgar Rice Burroughs classic. His original six-minute short, which he used as a promo (to convince Hollywood he could do it) for Skycaptain, is included with the DVD extras.
Movie: 5 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5