Paramount Home Video
Cast: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentaries, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Previews
Take the classic serials of the 30’s and 40’s and fast forward 50-60 years and you’ll know what to expect from "Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow". A thrilling joy ride of pure entertainment and adventure that never lets up from beginning to end. Part "Flash Gordon, " part "Indiana Jones" with a little of "The Rocketeer."
Back when the original teaser was released it came as a shock to me mainly because I had never heard of the film up until that point. After looking at the gorgeous renderings featuring the now famous robot attack I was excited to see what newcomer director Kerry Conran had up his sleeve. Not only did the trailer have that unique retro look that "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles" creator Brad Bird has become famous for, this was the first time that a live action film approached these designs in a very long time. The saturated sepia tone look to the entire film, along with the announcement that practically every set piece was created in the digital domain, had me a bit worried how well an hour and forty-six running time would turn out. And considering that Conran had never directed a feature length film before I was also worried that the film would end up being all style but no substance. Thankfully my concerns were put to rest upon seeing it opening night. I did feel that the final third act of the film quickly went downhill but I still had fun. The first act of the movie is still the highlight for me.
And what I find is becoming more and more common, I actually found I enjoyed the film more watching it a second time on DVD. The noticeable grain that appeared on the film stock is thankfully gone and the audio scores major points in how well it’s mixed, but more on this in the later parts of the review.
The film involves a mysterious plot in which various scientists are disappearing around the world. A New York City reporter by the name of Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) takes the case and soon discovers that they are all linked back to a mysterious evil genius, Dr. Totenkopf. When Dr. Totenkopf sends an army of giant robots to attack New York to steal power generators, America calls on the one man that they can rely on to save the day – Sky Captain (Jude Law). Soon both are heading to the other side of the globe, trying to uncover who or what is behind the series of bizarre attacks plaguing various spots around the world.
Paramount has released "Sky Captain" in a slightly altered 1.78:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> presentation. The soft, hazy almost out-of-focus look to the film is intentional. Do not attempt to adjust your TV sets. "Sky Captain" is a very unique film in how Kerry Conran has reproduced the look of serials shot in the 40’s and, wow, did he not only achieve this but also succeeded in still having a modern feel. The entire film was shot in black and white and then color was later added giving it that bleached sepia tone look. And because the film is completely shot digitally, it looks fantastic on DVD with not one speck of noise showing up. Even with the soft filtering used to help blend the live action actors with the CGI environments, details are still easily visible. The transfer magically lacks that harsh edging which is present in most films of this type. Haloing is completely eliminated too. And thankfully, even with almost 2 hours of extras crammed onto one disc the transfer rate doesn’t suffer either. A fantastic disc that needs to be seen just to appreciate the talent that went into making it.
The 448 kbps <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> audio track is a wonderfully blended experience. From beginning to end you’re completely immersed into Sky Captains world. Even though the film takes place in a fictional past it really feels like experiencing something from more present adventure/science fiction films. The reproduction of dialog is incredibly realistic. Listen to Gwyneth Paltrow’s few lines of dialog and you’ll know what I mean. The robot invasion earlier in the film is also a perfect example of how little the overall dynamics are compressed as well. Jude Law’s P-40 fighter plane consistently pans between back stage to front stage and back again – each time believably convincing. Next to the constant onslaught of sound effects, Edward Shearmur’s score always drives the scene further. Similar to John William’s classic theme for "Raiders of the Lost Ark", Shearmur’s score is great. I actually found the DVD sounding better through my setup than when I saw it theatrically last year.
Upon selecting the Special Features section of the disc, the first section you’ll notice are the "Commentary" selections.
The first <$commentary,audio commentary> is by the film’s producer, Jon Avnet. Although what he discusses has more to do with the production of the film, I still found what he has to say later on in the main documentary to be more interesting. Unfortunately he goes solo for the commentary and I feel it would have had a bit more impact if he had Kerry Conran also interacting with him during the commentary. Overall not bad but make it a priority to listen to the second commentary first.
The second <$commentary,audio commentary> is by writer and director Kerry Conran, production designer Kevin Conran (his brother), animation supervisor Steve Yamamoto and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings. This is by far the better of the two commentaries as both brothers and the VFX crew talks about how certain aspects of the film were created, the design approach they took for my scenes as well as hidden little bonuses that are placed throughout the film.
"Brave New World" is the best feature on the disc by far and has been split into 2 chapters in case you don’t have time to sit through its 50 minutes in one sitting. The documentary features an in-depth look into the production of the entire film. It essentially begins with Kerry’s early demo reel and what Jon Avnet’s impressions were before approving the film. And from that point forward we’re taken behind the scenes through the entire process. Costume Design, Set Design and early concept footage as the film switched mid-production from 2D to 3D are just small tidbits of details that are shown. It’s practically everything you can ask for. This is a great documentary that’s only fault is that it feels a tad short. 50 minutes is great but you it would have been nice if it had run longer. But than again I’ve seen documentaries that run 2 hours and are just dreadful.
"The Art of the World of Tomorrow" (8:15 mins) focuses on Kevin’s numerous sketches and his inspiration towards all the final designs that made it into the finished film. This guy’s crazy by the way. The total number of various sketches and complete renderings is nothing but staggering. He even makes comments about himself where he had no idea where he had the time to even draw everything he did. Seeing this just shows how much passion and talent both brothers have.
"The Original Six Minute Short" (6 mins) is the feature I’d been most anxious to see. This is the original demo tape that Kerry used as a promo to pitch to various studios and producers. While you watch, again keep in mind that this entire clip was rendered on an Apple II computer and all handled by Kerry himself. Absolutely stunning and it’s quite fascinating to watch various scenes which provide the opening for the finished film but only in a lower production state.
Two deleted scenes are also included. The first is an entirely finished clip that takes place in Totenkopf’s Torture Room. Interesting clip but it would have slowed the pace of the film a bit. The second scene is much longer but was never completed. Mostly everything is blue screen and CGI storyboards. It’s interesting to see that Kevin’s favorite design, a large hulk of a robot, which unfortunately never made it into the finished film, is predominately featured in this scene. I’d be interested to see the scene in a finished state.
The Gag Reel had some moments that had me laughing quite hard. You’ll immediately spot them because they mainly focus on the animators having a bit of fun with the material they’re working on. Not quite the CGI gag reel that was in Final Fantasy but still great for a couple of laughs.
And last Paramount has decided to throw in a number of Previews for upcoming film’s which had released in theaters last year and should be showing up on DVD in a matter of month’s. Alas none of the various trailers for "Sky Captain" are available. This is really disappointing considering the original teaser trailer was great. It was much better at portraying the "Flash Gordon" style serial monologue than the alternate trailer released after the film was delayed for its original theatrical release date. I think we could of done without the "Alfie" trailer and "Spongebob" trailer to make room for "Sky Captain’s".
"Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow" is an enjoyable film for all ages. It’s one of those rare genuine adventure films that unfortunately aren’t made that often anymore. The fact that practically everything on screen is digitally created makes DVD the perfect medium to watch this highly entertaining flick. And even if you can’t get into the film, it’s still the perfect reference disc to wow your friends and family with how amazing it looks and sounds.