Monday, November 29, 2004

"Sky Captain and the World of CGI"

My wife granted me a reprieve from husbandly duties Saturday night so I could go out to a movie. My neighbor and I had both been wanting to see "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" but missed it when it was in the regular theaters. Last week it reappeared at our local "cheap seats" theater, so with the blessings of our patient wives, we took in a late show.

I had wanted to see the movie based solely on the look of the trailer. Plot? Who cares about the plot!? This thing had giant robots, flying aircraft carriers, blimps, submarines, hovercraft and ray guns all wrapped up in a future-by-way-of-the-1930s style. I'd recently suggested that I'd like to see someone do an authentic Buck Rogers movie (or TV show) based on the original comic strips. And "Sky Captain" is how it would look.

"Sky Captain" isn't merely an homage to old movie serials, it is an old movie serial. As a film disconnected from its roots, it doesn't work. The acting is wooden, the line reading comes off a bit forced, the music is tinny and overblown. But those things are exactly what makes it fun to watch. One can easily imagine this film cut into twelve parts, each ending in one of the film's many cliffhanger sequences. In fact, the movie might be easier to take that way.

The visuals are almost entirely overexposed, desaturated, and rendered largely in sepia tones. Call it "soft-focus film noir." In fact, when color creeps in or the image suddenly sharpens, it's jarring.

What of the plot? Not that it matters, but the plot involves the search for a German scientist who has unleashed his mechanical monsters on the world to steal . . . er, electric generators I think. It's pretty much in the "quest" genre with most of the movie taken up by the search. The supposedly humorous banter between the two leads just falls flat.

But I didn't care because the movie was a treat for the eyes, and in that sense better on the big screen than the small. While I'm usually quite annoyed by movies that are all style and no substance, in this case I'll make an exception. It's worth a matinee ticket just to spend two hours looking at the movie. Yes, this makes me shallow; easily dazzled by the latest developments in computer generated imagery. But does anyone ask for a great plot from a Renoir?


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