In this science fiction adventure set in the 1930s, New York City reporter Polly Perkins starts to investigate why so many famous scientists are being reported missing. Soon, she gets clues, as strange flying machines and giant robots threaten the city. Luckily, her old flame, aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan aka Sky Captain, is there to battle the bad guys with the Flying Legion, in his Warhawk P-40. Now Polly must fly away with Sky Captain to Nepal to find a crazy scientist, Dr. Totenkopf, who apparently wants to destroy the world!
Sky Captain comes to the screen with the unique distinction of being the first of four films to be filmed entirely on a digital back lot, blending live characters with computer generated backgrounds. Preproduction began on Sky Captain in 1994 in the living room of Director Kevin Conran. It was there that he assembled a blue screen, and tools he would need to complete a black and white trailer to shop his idea to the studios. It took four years to complete the black and white short, but once done, he took his small project to producer Marsha Oglesby and that started the ball running. The amount of work to carefully align the live actors on blue screen with the computer generated environment is tremendous, and to a large degree, pretty successful on this film.
Famous scientists and various machinery around the world have mysteriously disappeared with the appearance of giant robots, and reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow) starts a investigation inviting ace aviator Sky Captain (Law) to join her. Risking their lives as they travel to exotic places around the world, can the fearless duo stop Dr. Totenkopf, the evil mastermind behind a plot to destroy the earth? Aided by Frankie Cook (Jolie), commander of an all-female amphibious squadron, and technical genius Dex (Ribisi), Polly and Sky Captain may be our planet's only hope.
The picture quality of Sky Captain is really difficult to judge. The 2:35:1, 1080p, MPEG-2 encoded picture is so highly stylized; the usual descriptive adjectives just do not apply. The picture is designed to look surreal with an almost romantic quality. It has been digitally soften to create a look of a retro 40's serial. While the picture does looked blurred, there is quite a bit of detail in the picture, and certainly more than you see on the DVD. Colors and hues have been desaturated in some places, and vivid in others. Sepia tones prevail throughout, black levels look correct although the bleached out look of the video can sometimes make the picture look a little silver. There was no chroma noise or bleeding to be found. The source material looked pristine, no pops (this is not film), or any other artifacts are found. Some problems that I did notice is that often the actors did not blend in well with the backgrounds, it was not convincing to these eyes. The best example of that is seen when the robot began their walk through retro Manhattan. As Paltrow runs across the street, it does not look like here feet are on solid ground. When she gets to curbs, she does not step up on them, she runs over them. This is really a small flaw however as most will probably miss this altogether.
When I judge the quality of a highly stylized picture designed to create an effect, I judge it on whether it works, or it doesn't. In this case it does.
As difficult as it was to judge picture quality on this disc, the audio quality was a different story. The 5.1 Dolby Digital 1.5 mbps encode was a sonic blast to say the least. There are quite a few audio reference moments in this movie. The first being the robots' walking through retro Manhattan while Polly tries and shoot pictures of them. The footsteps in this sequence literally shake the room with every step. You sub better have a strong constitution to take the punishment this segment will induce upon it. My Real Time analyzers registered very high output at 20hz and below in the LFE, and the left and right mains as well. How is that for power? Imaging was absolutely terrific. The front soundstage was as high as the floor/ceiling, and as wide as wall-to-wall. Image depth was just a little flat compared to other great mixes. Dialog was always clear, even in the presence of full bore sound effects. Guns shots and explosions rang from every corner of my room with power and authority. Side and rear wall imaging was stable and well defined. Sonic detail (the individual details within the sound effects) was excellent, as you could clearly hear metal rubbing against metal and the transient attacks of the guns from the airplanes. The score by Edward Shearmur is finely rendered, with a nice neutral midrange and highs. Sound staging was a little diffused, but not objectionably so. This is one well-put together mix.
Paramount released a very extensive amount of extras on DVD. They were ported over to the bluray disc and include; two audio commentaries, the first with producer Jon Avnet and the second with director Kerry Conran and his effects team, including production designer Kevin Conran, animation director Steve Yamamoto and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings. Also included are the two-chapter "Brave New World" runs a combined 55 minutes and is quite a comprehensive overview of the film's production. This is followed by the featurette "The Art of the World of Tomorrow." along with 'Sky Captain.' And last but not least is a "bonus" featurette, "Anatomy of a Virtual Scene. Last but not least are the film's three theatrical trailers, all are encoded in full 1080p video.
Call me crazy, but I really enjoyed Sky Captain in spite of its warts, plot holes, and occasional flat and wooden performances. This movie is not for everyone, but those folks who know how to stretch their imagination will certainly enjoy it. For you sub lovers, this soundtrack will give your sub such palpitations that you may want to check the drivers when the movie is over. When you look at the entire package, Sky Captain does pretty well for itself.
Acting in front of a blue screen can be difficult at best. In this example it is a mixed bag. Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi appear to have a great time, while Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law appeared as stiff as a heavily starched shirt.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: Other Editions