Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yesterday's Tomorrow

Unlike, say, "Raiders of the Lost Ark", which was in many ways a modern updating of the adventure serials, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" seems to be from an alternate world where it's always 1938. It's one of those geek movies, ultimately. If you like the basic idea of "Sky Captain" - which can pretty much be boiled down to, "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear" - you'll find things to like in the movie, even though you'll probably come away from it unsatisfied.

It's a pity that the plot - or the acting - doesn't live up to the potential of the movie's stunning look. When I wasn't admiring the backdrops or acknowledging yet another reference ("Sky Captain" is so `30-`40s reference-saturated that at times you feel like saying, "Enough already! I get it."), I was spending my time wondering what would have happened if someone like Dave Stevens ("The Rocketeer") or Frank Miller ("The Dark Knight Returns"), or the Fleishers (Superman cartoons) had gotten their hands on filmmaker's Kerry Conran's technology. You feel like telling him, "Great look, kid, but you don't know how to tell a story. Give it to someone who does."

I'm not the first to notice that "Sky Captain" draws heavily from the two Fleischer Superman cartoons, "The Mechanical Monsters" and "The Bulleteers." The robot invasion of an art deco New York has moments where there are almost screen-by-screen duplications of both cartoons, even down to the use of the same camera angle as a barricaded police force unleashes a tommy-gun barrage against the robots.

While Conran's plot sometimes seems solely written to sneak in yet another reference (including, in no particular order, "Metropolis", "King Kong", "Wizard of Oz", "Buck Rogers", "Lost Horizon", the aforementioned Superman cartoons, and certainly dozens of others that I missed), the acting is what really hurts the movie. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law seem to have been shown a couple of classic, "feisty woman bickers with heroic male constantly, but they really love each other" movies from the Tracy-Hepburn era, but it didn't take for either of them.

In fact, Jude Law's Sky Captain/Joe seems to have a bigger thing for his brainy sidekick, Dex, who he's constantly calling a "good boy", than he does for Paltrow. As opposed to any sort of chemistry, the dislike between Law and Paltrow is almost palpable at times. And if I were Dex, I'd avoid any invitations from Law to check out his, ah, cockpit.

If you know what I mean.

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