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Feature: Sky Captain
This is your captain speaking. We are currently experiencing some excitement about this new movie…
A World War II-era P-40 fighter plane with tiger shark teeth painted on its nose carriage whips through a hazy New York City skyline, guns a-blazing. On the sidewalk below, a gorgeous blonde dressed in Gotham journalist threads stolen from Lois Lane’s closet ducks away as the plane makes its way down the avenue only a few feet above the street level while attempting to shoot down a phalanx of unstoppable killer robots, each about 15 storeys high. When bullets don’t work, the courageous pilot switches to magnetized mines that he launches at the legs of the laser-eyed automata, finally disabling one and causing a chain reaction of tumbling killer droids.
Giant robots? Fighter planes? New York City in the Thirties? Futuristic weapons? Welcome to the world of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, an ambitious new Science Fiction film created almost entirely in a computer with the kind of fully-immersive CGI environments originally used by George Lucas in multiple sequences in the Star Wars prequels. Though stars Jude Law (as the pilot, Sky Captain aka Commander Joe Sullivan) and Gwyneth Paltrow (as intrepid reporter and former Sky Captain girlfriend Polly Perkins) were only on the London-based sets for a matter of one weeks filming their parts in February of 2003, Sky Captain then went into over a year of post-production, incorporating the live-action footage shot entirely against blue screens with few props into an entire world – heavily influenced by the old Saturday morning serials of days gone by – created by a team of 50 hard-working animators in Van Nuys, California. “This is Buck Rogers meets Raiders of the Lost Ark,” enthuses long-time producer Jon Avnet who took on the project after seeing a six-minute home-made CG presentation of Sky Captain from writer/director Kerry Conran. “The serials of the past were an enormous influence. They had cliff-hangers and that’s what this has, but this is not camp. For film lovers, there are a lot of references in there that will go by quickly and there are elements of homage, but they’re not done in a way to say, ‘Oh, look at this!’ It’s just the Thirties – the music of the Thirties, the costumes of the Thirties – we like the art deco.”
For 10 years, reclusive writer/director Kerry Conran toiled away creating a pre-World War II New York City where transatlantic travel is done in zeppelins, mad scientists can create any number of different kinds of robotic monsters to do their meglomaniacal bidding and the good guys are dashing pilots who land their planes on aircraft carriers that float above the clouds. With influences coming in from the Fleischer Brother Superman cartoons to the futuristic design work of Thirties visionary Hugh Ferriss and all the way to the Terry and the Pirates action radio serial, Sky Captain came together as an epic Science Fiction adventure tale that has its heroes travel as far away as the Himalayas, the depths of the ocean and dense island jungles in an attempt to stop the mysterious Dr Totenkopf (‘Death’s Head’) from taking over the world with his flying automaton armies. Shot with all practical locations, Sky Captain could well have been the most expensive movie ever made. However, the idea for the movie sprang forth from an attempt to do the exact opposite.
by Mark Wheaton
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