World’s Fair

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: written and directed by Kerry Conran; starring Gwyneth Paltrow (Polly Perkins), Jude Law (Sky Captain), Giovanni Ribisi (Dex), Michael Gambon (Paley), Bai Ling (Assassin), Omid Djalili (Kaji), Angelina Jolie (Franky), and the digital ghost of Laurence Olivier (Dr. Totenkopf) (2004): Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow creates a coherent world based on the comics and movie serials and science-fiction covers and cartoons of the 1930’s, along with the New York World’s Fair of 1939, itself dubbed The World of Tomorrow. It’s gradually becoming a cult favourite, possibly because it uses CGI and digital compositing and virtual sets in the service of something retro and weird and wholly authentic in its own way.

Unfortunately, Paramount’s decision to dump it in September 2004 with a baffling marketing campaign pretty much sealed its box-office doom. This is really too bad because writer-director Kerry Conran is much better at creating a digital movie-world than most famous directors have proven to be. The whole thing makes Georges Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy look visually dim-witted by comparison.

There’s real character and charm in the designs, and in the performances by Gwyneth Paltrow as crusading reporter Polly Perkins and Jude Law as private air-hero Sky Captain, with a nice, relatively straightforward supporting performance from Giovanni Ribisi as gadgeteer Dex.

Along the way, the film drops into a number of locales that allude to forebears such as the 1930’s film version of Lost Horizon, any number of Lost Worlds and Skull Islands, the Krell world-machine from Forbidden Planet, Thunderbirds, and brief visual homages to the 1930’s King Kong and to the original Godzilla. All in all, it’s swell. Highly recommended.

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