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Sky Captain: Glossy, but not dramatic!

By Arthur J Pais in Toronto
September 20, 2004 14:01 IST
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Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow in Sky CaptainAmong the many amazing technical achievements in Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow is the resurrection of Laurence Olivier who has been dead for 15 years.

One admires the way his image has been reconstructed from old footage and cast as Dr Totenkop, a nasty piece of action in this rousing sci-fi action adventure (at least half the way).

But one wonders if the digital manipulation and resurrection of Olivier could unleash a trend and the viewers will be overwhelmed with the dead stars.

Another worry: after marveling at the digital illusion for a few minutes, one starts wondering why this villain is not compellingly interesting.

There have been many stories in newspapers and magazines about the film's innovative digital technology: how other than the actors, their costumes, and a few props, everything in it is a digital illusion.'s Arthur J Pais is at Toronto. Don't miss his dispatches!

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Much has been written about the film's technique, about how first-time director Kerry Conran, worked for over five years, first to produce a six-minute film illustrating his vision for Sky Captain, then sign a deal with Paramount, hire stars and finally start shooting the film over a year-and-a-half ago.

While the movie also tries to pay homage to such landmark entertainment as Steven Spielberg's Raiders Of The Lost Ark, it stumbles considerably in the second part because of a script that runs out of arresting plot twists. Thus, it betrays its promise of a breathtaking entertainment at the end.

So while it is cinematic and glossy, it is not dramatic enough. After a while, the thrills become too familiar. It does not offer the dramatic surprises Spielberg and his conspirators crafted for Raiders.

Its attempts to recreate the arresting visuals of early 20th century movies might interest older audiences and movie buffs, especially the references to classics like Metropolis, King Kong, and Lost Horizon.

But it is a big question if the teenagers and the 20-plus crowd would embrace Sky Captain's nostalgic trips with equal enthusiasm. That may mean a solid box office, but not in the vicinity of $300 million benchmark.

A still from Sky CaptainJude Law plays Joe Sutphin, aka Sky Captain, with an airbase and a private force of never-say-die pilots. When giant airborne robots appear over New York with malevolent intentions, Joe sets in motion series of attacks that immediately provide the filmmakers a wonderful opportunity to present its new technology.

Joining Joe's adventures is Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) who would take any risk for a scoop. There is a bit of tension between Joe and Polly -- the reason for it is revealed soon. Their early sparring lends the film charm and humour. There would be suspense to some whether their relationship strained more than three years ago could be patched up.

Polly has been pursuing a story about the disappearance of top scientists and by joining forces with Joe, she hopes to get an extraordinary scoop. Helping her is a physicist Jennings (Trevor Baxter), a member of a secret group assembled in Berlin in the early years of the 20th century.

We soon learn that a mysterious Totenkop is letting his robots plunder oil refineries with a specific purpose that the film reveals later. When Joe's right-hand guy Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) is kidnapped by the villain, Joe cannot afford to let the villain go any farther.

One of the film's drawbacks is the lack of strong chemistry between Law and Paltrow though individually each score, especially Law who looks believable and exudes low key charm.

Chinese veteran Bai Ling has some exciting moments as the leader of the robot army but she needed a stronger role and smart direction.

Much better than Paltrow or Bai is Angelina Jolie as the eye-patched, sexy British commanding officer Captain Frankie Cook, who is on the side of the good guys. But she has her own agenda too. Though Jolie does not have much screen time, she leaves a wonderful impression, making us hope that her missteps such as Beyond Borders are not repeated.

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Arthur J Pais in Toronto