Magical effects pilot ‘Sky Captain’


Diana Saenger

La Jolla Light

Movies have become so cliche that it’s refreshing to see something new. “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow” offers ample such refreshment.

Written and directed by Kerry Conran, the film mirrors the film-noir style of yesterday and the special-effects technology of today. The imaginative story idea, sparked by comic books, came to life on Conran’s home computer.

Using more than 2,000 effects shots along with live-action actors, all filmed against a blue screen, the movie has no real locations or sets. However, don’t think this movie looks like it’s computer-made. Conran employs the latest technology to draw viewers into a very beautiful and lush world brought to life by actors Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.

The story starts in a 1940s-era stylized New York, where the Hindenburg III airship is docking at the Empire State Building.

“I saw this as a kid in ‘The Book of Marvels,’ ” said Conran. “Then in ‘King Kong,’ he gripped the cowling dock - and the thought of airships as a mode of city transportation was great to imagine and sparked the story idea.”

News reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow) is working her beat when enormous robots invade the city, and she must duck in and out of their footsteps to pursue her story. Fortunately, her ex, daredevil Sky Captain Joe Sullivan (Law), flies his plane between skyscrapers to rescue her. The two team up in a work-related adventure to find missing scientists and overcome the evil mastermind Dr. Totenkoft, who plans to destroy the world.

Polly and Joe have a wonderful push-pull relationship that Conran admits mimics Nick and Nora Charles in “The Thin Man” series. Paltrow was delighted to play Polly and pulls off the role perfectly, always shooting back a quip to Joe, and in true film-noir style, never being sarcastic, but tantalizingly seductive.

“She’s a throwback to that kind of feminine strength and cunning and hidden kind of coy sexuality and manipulation of all that,” said Paltrow.

Law thought about his sons, Paul and Dustin, when considering the role of Sky Captain. “It seemed to have an innocence, and yet, all of the necessary accoutrements that would excite a younger audience.”

Law does justice to the Boy Scout-like pilot who has fun with Polly when he enlists his old pal, Frankie’s (Angelina Jolie) help with enemy combatants. She lets Polly know right up front that she and Sky have a history together.

“Sky Captain” has a wonderfully reminiscent feel, something Conran loved as a kid growing up.

“I grew up with films of the 1930s and ‘40s,” he said. “Every Sunday, we watched classic films like ‘Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy,’ serials like ‘Flash Gordon’ or film noir like ‘Angels Have Wings’ or ‘The Third Man.’ These movies were a great source of inspiration for me.”

Conran spent six years in his living room making a 10-minute film of “Sky Captain” before producer Jon Avnet got a look at it and knew it was something different. It would take several more years and an entire team of more than 200 special-effects artists to bring the film to the screen and reveal an amazing never-seen-before look.