Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow


Darlings. My apologies for being incommunicado the last few weeks but Madame Rose, my publicist, absolutely insisted that I keep a bit of a low profile after my unforgettable appearance at the Republican convention last month. The number was a bit of a disaster and thank heavens the networks cut to commercials before my sterling reputation as America's most family friendly entertainer could be at all besmirched in the public eye. Needless to say, my opening on Broadway as The Girl From Oz has been indefinitely postponed, especially after the homeland security department impounded the sets, costumes, and the producers as being highly suspicious. Joseph, my manager, hears they are all being held someplace called Gitmo for the duration. I was very saddened when my wanderings took me past the Imperial theater last week and I read a 'Closed by the order of John Ashcroft' notice on the door. 

I did accept a one night gig to perform a nightclub act at the Flora-Bama lounge on the Gulf Coast this past week. I arrived on Wednesday night, to find winds of seventy miles an hour blowing through the place and no one could hear my gorgeous high A-flat over their howling so it wasn't the most successful of my recent programs, even when I did a rousing encore of Stormy Weather just before part of the roof started to detach. I cut the second encore, leapt into the limo and headed north out of the way of Hurricane Ivan and back to more civilized parts. I'm now back at Chateau Maine trying to decide what sort of project is most worthy of my talents and wondering why I was not invited to the Spears/Federline nuptials. After all, I taught that girl everything she knows. 

Normy and I decided to deal with boredom and relative unemployment with a visit to one of our local watering holes with film to follow. After a couple of cosmopolitans, the title that most interested us was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow the retro-futuristic epic from director Kerry Conran with Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. This epic has been touted in the trades for months as the film of tomorrow as the majority of the production design is strictly computer generated imagery. No sets, no props, no in camera effects, just actors in front of blue and green screens being matted into digital environments. I was sent an early copy of the script but turned it down as I prefer to actually face my co-stars when filming and there wasn't enough tap dance. 

The plot is basic Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon/Thirties and Forties matinee serial hokum. Jude Law is Joe, the handsome square jawed Sky Captain of the title who can do anything with his fighter plane. As the film opens, New York City is being menaced by an army of enormous robots straight out of Fritz Lang and only plucky Sky Captain, from his secret airbase just outside the city (which seems to be in the middle of a transplanted Crater Lake that nestles someplace between Fort Lee and Nutley, New Jersey) can swoop in and save the day. He's joined in his quest by equally plucky girl reporter, Polly Perkins (Paltrow), in full Roz Russell/Ginger Rogers career girl mode who's trying to figure out who the evil Dr. Totenkopf, the sender of the machines, might be and where to find him. Soon the two of them are jetting off to Nepal in search of Shangri-La, joining up with Frankie, a one-eyed butch air commander (Angelina Jolie), diving down to Atlantis and ending up in Jules Verne land by way of the Disney Imagineers. Giovanni Ribisi, as Sky Captain's spunky inventor assistant, rounds out the principal cast. 

The plot has the kind of insane brio that Raiders of the Lost Ark had and mixes humor and action together quite nicely. Unfortunately, Law and Paltrow don't have the kind of chemistry together that Harrison Ford and Karen Allen had in that earlier film and Sky Captain is set up as such a noble chap, that there's no humanity left in him. Law looks great on screen, but he can't even begin to breathe life into this prodigy and Sky Captain Joe comes across pretty much as a dork. Ribisi should have ended up with the girl. At least he looks like he's having fun. Better yet, Frankie could have given sweet Polly a closing credits sunset kiss that would have been the stuff of movie legend. Paltrow tries, and is quite good in her role, but seems thrown by the need to react to digital effects completed months after giving her performance. She always seems to be just a bit off in her reactions and timing. Jolie and Ribisi, on the other hand, know just what kind of film they find themselves in and run with it and things sizzle during their altogether too brief scenes. 

The major reason for this film is the visual look. The whole thing is shot through a sepia wash to give it a faded, yesterday look, sort of like forties portrait photography. It's sort of a visual shorthand for conjuring up the past, but it becomes irritating after a while, especially when some moments of real color creep in, like during a visit to Radio City Music Hall. Production designer Kevin Conran, director Kerry's brother, conjures up a magical world and some of the transitional scenes in which digital backgrounds, maps, documents and characters all meld together are mesmerizing. The brothers Conran, obviously fans of classic Sci-Fi, are having a blast and, at times their enthusiasm becomes infectious and when the movie works, which it does more often than not, we get swept along with it. They also have a sense of humor and all sorts of cultural artifacts make brief cameo appearances if you look for them. 

The CGI process for producing the effects, while having made enormous leaps in the last decade, is still not the simulacrum of life that its purveyors would like us to believe. In scene after scene, the most ordinary of objects or motions looks wrong and, ultimately, one starts to feel trapped in a very long, complicated computer game. In fact, I wonder if this scenario was not originally developed for X-box and then someone had the bright idea of developing it as a film. 

Normy and I certainly had an enjoyable ride on the roller coaster and felt like we hadn't been ripped off for our matinee admissions, but now, a few days later, I'm having trouble remembering any of the film. Little stays with you beyond the initial viewing. 

Hindenburg docking. Stomping robots. Kidnapped scientists. Mysterious Asian martial-arts woman. Glinda the Good cameo. Air battles. Helpful chewing gum. Unusual threesome. Exploding uranium mine. Exploding rocket ship. Resurrected Laurence Olivier. Titanic cameo. 

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