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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Year: 2005
Director: Kerry Conran
Writer: Kerry Conran
Cast: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Gambon, Laurence Olivier
After Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, Liam Neeson may or may not have declared his intention to retire from acting (some sources quoted him as saying so, some said he later apologised, retracting his statement and blaming fatigue).

The reason? He thought the craft of acting had been irreparably altered by his having to act to cardboard cut-outs and blue screen backgrounds that would later be replaced by digital landscapes and characters.

On the Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones DVD release making of featurettes, Hayden Christensen recalls just one single set that didn't have a green or blue screen. Shots of him and Natalie Portman racing through the Geonosis droid foundry near the climactic battle of the film were comprised completely of the actors running through blue sets – every single element added later by computer.

There was much hand wringing over the future of human actors around the time of Final Fantasy – the first fully computer generated action movie – and relief when the characters failed to live up to the qualities of a real human.

Digital effects and imagery have always had a love-hate relationship with movies audiences. On one hand, for the first time in history, if a filmmaker can imagine it, we can see it, with no need for unconvincing miniatures or tricks of lighting to hide the duct tape and wires.

But at the same time, too many filmmakers have become mere computer technicians, lax in their responsibilities to the things like performance, story and dialogue - things that make the difference between a movie and a showreel from a special effects house.

Not for the first time, it's a marketing hook. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is, as the producers tell us, the first film to be shot entirely against blue screens with the actors and costumes the only real world elements.

It's also an intriguing look – a grand sci-fi spectacle wrapped up in the aesthetic of a rousing 1930's newsreel. I'd read a lot of reviews (particularly new ones in the US bagging it for being another lame brained action adventure with a bad script, and true, it's not Shakespeare.

But it's a beautiful amalgam of aesthetic influences, from wartime newsreels and swashbuckling 30s and 40s serials to gumshoe noir thrillers, and even though there are scripts that are truly awful this isn't one – despite not being Shakespeare it carries a popcorn-brained adventure film perfectly well.

In the same way, there are films that just don't 'hang' together neatly.

Sky Captain does everything professionally – there's none of the ill-fitting or overblown set pieces or dialogue you so often see in good time movies.

The sci-fi set in wartime New York aesthetic, all delivered through a golden age of Hollywood, softened-picture/Sam Spade lens is fascinating enough, but clunky dialogue or bad pacing would have bought it in a crashing heap.

Borrowing from everything from Indiana Jones to Star Wars and plenty of other rollicking adventure fantasies you can remember, it follows two disparate characters, Joe Sullivan (Law, in no less than five movies at the time of Sky Captain's release), a crack fighter pilot, and tough but feminine girl reporter Polly Perkins (an amalgam of every Brenda Starr caricature there's ever been).

When giant robots attack New York city (and other major capitals around the world), it sets off two races; one to stop the onslaught, and one to discover the truth behind the attacks, which seem to point to a case of disappearing scientists.

Joe and Polly must team, up, and with the help of Joe's old flame and hard as nails RAF airship commander Frankie (Jolie, in a smaller role than the trailer would have you believe), they trace the robot army to its source in the highlands of Nepal to unravel the evil plot behind them.

Give it a go and have fun – it's not as bad as some reviews would have you think, and look out for the dozens of movie references.

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