Film 2010 #20 – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow


Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004, dir. Kerry Conran)

Starring Jude Law, Gwenyth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Sir Laurence Olivier
Nostalgia is a strong element in mainstream cinema. You can look at many of the franchise films (Transformers, Batman, Harry Potter) and see that their popularity is due in part to the emotions the audience associates with the properties in how they experienced them as children. George Lucas pioneered the blockbuster nostalgia film, first with American Graffiti, but more importantly with the Star Wars series, based on the science fiction movie serials shown in theaters from the 1930s up through Lucas’s childhood in the late 40s/early 50s.
It’s the same sense of nostalgia that informs Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain film. It’s clearly modeled on the fantastical and cliffhangered films of yesteryear. Sky Captain borrows in particular from Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and DC Comics’ Blackhawks. This is pure cinematic escapism with no real subtext. Its clear the director is quite fond of The Wizard of Oz as well and that provides any sort of under the radar thematics.
The look of the film is incredibly striking, done washed out colors that are only one notch above black and white. I could see the CG being criticized for not looking realistic but I think its done in the stylization of Sin City. It also made me think of what computer generated effects would have looked like if they had existed in the 1930s for a film like this. The director used archive footage of Sir Laurence Olivier for the film’s villain, Totenkopf, and I’m completely at a loss as to why that actor was used. Olivier didn’t have a history of working pulp films, though he would have been very interesting in them.
Character development is appropriately stiff. This is the sort of film where you know there just isn’t going to be a significant character arc. The relationship between Sky Captain and his Girl Friday, Polly Perkins, is Han & Leia revisited. Everything is very combative and jealous, barely concealing how deeply the two care for each other. I actually laughed at a couple moments between the two and found their back and forth exchanges appropriate for this type of film.
At the end of the day, this is a film purely about the visuals and nods to its source material. It has much more heart than a Transformers and its apparent much love went into making it. A fun film that won’t change your life, but will appeal to imaginative kid in ya.
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Film 2010 #1 – Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes (2009, dir. Guy Ritchie)
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, James Fox

There are few characters more iconic than Sherlock Holmes. He is a figure strongly ingrained in the pop culture psyche, wearing his deerstalker hat while sporting a pipe and magnifying glass. When British director Guy Ritchie was announced to be helming the current incarnation of the most famous detective, I wasn’t to intrigued. Since 2002’s Swept Away, Ritchie has seemed to be unable to find direction in his film career. With Sherlock Holmes he has managed to combine his dynamic visual storytelling style with plenty of humor to create an incredibly fresh twist on the icon.

The plot is not based on any particular Holmes’ tale, but references many characters and cases familiar to those who have read the stories. Holmes and Watson have just helped Inspector LeStrade apprehend Lord Blackwood, a member of the House of Lords involved in a satanic Illuminati ritual. Blackwood tells Holmes of a larger power at work before he is hung and appears to return to life. While Holmes attempts to uncover the truth behind Blackwood he must deal with Watson’s impending engagement and the return of his greatest adversary and infatuation, Irene Adler.

What Ritchie has effectively done is make a buddy cop movie set in the London of the late 19th century. The dynamic between Holmes and Watson is much different than previously presented and feels much more in tune with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intent. They are a bickering married couple, with Holmes blatant jealous and worried over the idea of Watson leaving him to marry his fiancee. Ritchie also brings in Holmes’ past as a boxer, as aspect of the character greatly ignored in the previous interpretations.

What surprised me the most was how funny the film is, and because of that it should be classified much more as a comedy than anything else. I came to the realization that Robert Downey, Jr. is a good actor but what he’s been asked to play for the last decade or so is a pastiche of himself. Other than an accent there is not much difference between how he plays Holmes and Tony Stark. What I enjoyed wasn’t necessarily his acting, but rather his ability to do what he does so damn well.

The film is definitely a fresh look at the icon of Sherlock Holmes. Anyone who holds the traditional film portrayal, first seeded by Basil Rathbone, will find this to be quite jarring. For audiences who are ready for a new take, it is one of the most fun films they will see this year. And in the case of any good studio franchise, they leave this one open for an inevitable sequel.