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ISSUE 118 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/24/2004

Yesterday's grandeur recalled in 'Tomorrow'

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, September 24, 2004

Belatedly surfacing in the wake of such doomsday-themed movies as "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Dawn of the Dead", the world of cinema has once more found its way back to the genre of apocalyptic film, this time in Kerry Conran's directorial debut "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow."

However, the highly stylized, effects-palpable "Sky Captain" isn't just another "Independence Day." The film is a visually engaging romp that dazzles audiences with the fantastical juxtaposition of futuristic gadgets and 1930s glamour.

The plot is simple enough: when Manhattan is overrun by gargantuan steel robots whose creator has been linked to the disappearances of seven prominent scientists, it is up to suave fighter pilot Sky Captain, a.k.a. H. Joseph Sullivan (Jude Law), and his plucky journalist ex-girlfriend Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) to -- what else? -- save the day.

Together, Sullivan and Perkins must uncover the apocalyptic secrets of the mysterious iron giants before their investigations are quashed by a cape-wearing, masked menace intent on erasing any evidence leading toward the robots' source.

Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi round out the film's modest cast, with Jolie appearing only briefly as an eye-patch wearing fellow pilot (and ex-flame) of Sullivan's. Her small role is a memorable one, infused with gutsy bravado and a caustic British accent. Ribisi melds comfortably into his typical, wisecracking alter ego Dex, an inventor friend of Sullivan's.

"Sky Captain" is a perfect 'popcorn' movie; with sly, subtle humor, it entertains in spite of its simple plot and fairly one-dimensional characters. And, because it retains a softly muted Doris Day lens effect throughout, "Sky Captain" gives the impression of a dreamy, almost ambiguous era filled with unexpected action and epic romance. The film's elegant costumes and structured, streamlined cityscapes further contribute to the visual appeal of "Sky Captain."

Many of film's special effects were digitally inserted once the actors finished shooting their scenes in front of a blue screen, but the giant robotic figures and ultramodern aircrafts that saturate the film blend nearly flawlessly with the live action. Any rigidity visible in the myriad of computer-generated extras only adds to the comic book-like appearance that the movie maintains throughout its 107 minute running time.

Paltrow, whose blonde hair and pale skin lend her an onscreen presence reminiscent of classic silver screen beauties Jean Harlow and Veronica Lake, seems undecided whether or not her character should be a polished leading lady or a hard-hitting, sarcastic sidekick. Her performance is (at first) uneven, but she settles into her character halfway through the film, all the while enhancing her initially awkward onscreen chemistry with Law.

Law himself seems perfectly suited for his role as the film's title character; he adapts easily to the fearless, intrepid visage required of his heroic persona, and has the slick hair and good looks to match the ranks of cinematic greats Clark Gable and Cary Grant.

With a sometimes cumbersome progression of events and a clichéd, abrupt ending, Sky Captain isnt everything it could be. Still, the film's sweeping scenery and spectacular visual and special effects make it worth seeing. Director Conran has made a valiant first attempt at filmmaking, and audiences can only hope that even better things are yet to come.

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