My wife and I are fond of telling this story, about the time she was going through Portland's downtown Pioneer Square while the Vermont ice cream company Ben & Jerry's was having one of its annual Free Cone Days there. She saw a well-dressed lawyer type in suit and tie, briefcase and cellphone in hand, waiting in line (and it was a long line)... an identically-dressed guy came up to him and said something like, "Y'know, for what you bill... it's really not worth it for you to stand in line like this." The guy in line just looked at him and replied,
"Hey. FREE ICE CREAM."
You either get it or you don't.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is just that way. Sure, you can ding the acting, and the dialogue, and the hokey plot... but it's visually gorgeous, chock-full of arch references to films from King Kong to The Wizard of Oz, from Raiders of the Lost Ark to When Worlds Collide, and:
Hey. GIANT FLYING ROBOTS - with glowing headlamp eyes. Zeppelins actually mooring at the top of the Empire State Building (you won't get me up in one of those things...). Secret air bases in drowned volcanic craters. Airplanes that flap their wings and stoop like hawks. Brushed-aluminum space arks with fins. Amphibious prop planes in squadrons launched from giant flying aircraft carriers proudly showing the Union Jack. More giant robots, these with tentacles for arms - and a little shiny ray gun that can melt big holes in 'em. And did I mention the GIANT FLYING ROBOTS?
Almost all of the little visual details are right, from the font used for the title to the way their propellers slide from front to back when those planes turn amphibious. Only once did my concentration get broken by awareness of the CGI, when a taxicab rocked too much and too smoothly as Polly Perkins got out of it in front of Radio City Music Hall.
The sounds are right, too, which is something I haven't seen mentioned. Aurally as well as visually the film is a delight, quoting liberally from earlier genre classics without slavishly aping them. Those GIANT FLYING ROBOTS zap things with the exact "TEW-TEW-TEW-TEW" sound from War of the Worlds.
You either get it or you don't. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a gosh-wow extravaganza made to order for the Golden Age of science fiction - that is, twelve years old - as that age remains to be stirred in any of us.
September 25, 2004
©2004 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.
Last updated September 26, 2004.