Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Length: 106 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Special Features: Producer Commentary, Director and VFX Crew Commentary, 2 Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel
Strap yourself in for an unusual ride. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is just that. It is a unique vision by a rookie director - a B-movie sci-fi serial shot without any sets at all. Everything you see, except for the actors and a few select props, is created in the computer and inserted into the scene.
Every shot, in its raw form, is nothing more than the actors, and any props with which they must directly interact, in front of a blue screen. A very large blue screen. Pans, zooms and dolly shots are used frequently and seamlessly. Not a problem with motion control systems, right? Perhaps the most incredible aspect to this is that there wasn’t a single motion-control shot used in the film. Shots were matched manually... painstakingly... by hand on desktop computers by an army of digital artists and animators.
So, what is the film about? Well, it seems that a mad scientist has sent giant robots to key places around the world to steal certain pieces of technology. At the same time, the world’s top scientists are disappearing. After the giant robots destroy much of Manhattan, Sky Captain Joe Sullivan (Jude Law) is called in to investigate. Along for the ride is his inquisitive ex-girlfriend and reporter, Polly (Gwyneth Paltrow). Along the way, they meet up with a British Naval Commander (Angelina Jolie) who helps them in their quest to get to the bottom of the whole mess. Giovanni Ribisi appears as technical genius “Dex.” Be on the lookout for a posthumous “performance” by Sir Laurence Olivier. While I understand that Olivier was included out of respect, I’m still not sure what to make of it, myself.
The whole thing seems to take place in the 1930’s - though there are clearly technologies available in this world that weren’t in our world at that time (or even now). The film has a heavy art-deco look, and is inspired by the old B-movie serials. The result of the digital construction and design is a film like no other you’ve ever seen. Is Sky Captain a cinematic masterpiece? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a fun, nostalgic ride for serial movie fans. It is a grand visual and technical achievement. And it is definitely a new and unique approach to filmmaking - one which, I predict, we’ll see again.
One must bear in mind, when viewing this DVD, that the film was intentionally shot with a soft focus look. Highlights are supposed to bloom a bit. Colors are supposed to be somewhat sepia-toned. Do not adjust your set.
The transfer is very well done. Delivered in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture is as sharp as the source allows. Black levels are solid, and there is good detail in the shadows. Colors are often sepia-toned, but vary according to the tastes of the filmmakers. In fact, the live action footage was shot in color, the digital models were created in black and white, then colorists recolored whole scenes.
Expect some blooming in highlights, which is also by design.
There are no apparent compression artifacts visible.
The audio is brought to you in Dolby Digital 5.1. It is an active mix, with good directional use of surrounds for ambience and sound effects. Low frequency effects are quite impressive, at times. Frequency response is good, providing natural sounding dialog and full-bodied response in the musical score.
Commentary by producer John Avnet
Avnet speaks volumes from the producer’s perspective - and as mentor to first time director Conran. While it is obvious that Avnet is watching the film as he is speaking, this is not a really scene-specific commentary. While he makes references to what is going on in the film, he speaks more of intangible things that don’t show on the screen: how he encouraged Conran, casting decisions, the collaborative process, securing funding, etc. There is little dead space, here. Avnet has a lot to say. This is an interesting commentary if you’re interested in the producer’s perspective on the film.
Commentary by writer / director Kerry Conran, production designer Kevin Conran, and visual effects and animation crew.
This commentary, despite having multiple participants, starts off disappointingly slow and undetailed. Over time, it does pick up some, giving some details on the design and the effects shots, and some anecdotes on casting and budget visual techniques and props. There are some interesting bits, here... but you’ll need to sit through some dead space and repetition to get to it.
Brave New World
This is a terrific, well executed documentary of the making of Sky Captain, featuring unusually frank and honest discussion from director Kerry Conran, production designer Kevin Conran, producer Jon Avnet and many others. One expects frankness from a first time director in this sort of setting, but Jon Avnet also provides interesting and lively discussion. The documentary is offered in two chapters:
(Chapter 1) (28:11)
Chapter 1 of Brave New World focuses on the origin and evolution of the idea that became Sky Captain, following the film from its early stages on a desktop computer in Kerry Conran’s apartment, through the production of a six minute short film, and the backdoor pitch to Jon Avnet. Taken on as a low-budget feature, the film eventually gathered momentum with an A-List cast, and after nearly a year of pre-production, principle photography wrapped in just 29 days.
(Chapter 2) (23:34)
Chapter 2 picks up after principle photography, and follows the extended two year post production which grew from a dozen or so artists to over a hundred. Late participation by Paramount allowed the low budget film to blossom into a bigger than life feature, but that didn’t happen until very late in the game. This chapter shows many examples of the digital processes and coloring of the film.
The Art of World of Tomorrow (8:20)
Kevin Conran talks about the process and approach of the art direction in the film, and stresses the fact that it was never the intent to create a photo-realistic environment. He makes no apologies, and states simply that if that is what you’re looking for, then this isn’t the film for you. He calls it a “comic book brought to life.”
New York was based on charcoal renderings by Hugh Ferris, an architect / illustrator from the 1930’s. Conran also talks of the Art Deco look, and the influence it had on the film.
Conran goes on to discuss costume design, which he never intended to be a part of. His need to visualize the characters early on, however, required some early drawings. He worked with those early drawings to design the final costumes for the film.
The Original Six Minute Short
This film, made on a desktop computer in Kerry Conran’s apartment, is what was used to pitch the feature film to Jon Avnet. It was also instrumental in getting key actors to sign on. It is easy to see how the first act of the film grew entirely from this short. It has the same visual style as the feature film, though it is in black and white (the original intention of the feature, as well). A nice, interesting addition to the special features, especially since discussion of this short is featured prominently in the documentary.
Totenkopf’s Torture Room (1:13)
A short scene in Nepal, before Captain Joe Sullivan and Polly receive the staff that leads them to Totenkopf. This scene is completely rendered.
The Conveyor Belt (3:56)
Unfinished, this is a mix of blue-screen and pre-viz animatics. It serves as an alternate way for the Captain and Polly to meet Dex. The final version in the film is shorter and tighter.
There is a “Play All” feature.
Gag Reel (2:32)
A short mix of live action bloopers and animatics gags. There’s nothing special here, but those who like bloopers may appreciate the inclusion.
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Without a Paddle
As long as Paramount assaults us with forced previews, I’ll continue to express my displeasure in reviews. These are semi-forced previews, requiring multiple chapter skips to advance to the menu. They also appear in the special features. It is an unfortunate trend in Paramount product, as of late.
There is no theatrical trailer for Sky Captain included on the disc.
Turn off your brain and enjoy the film. It is a visual feast, and an entirely unique piece of work. Paramount has delivered a wonderful transfer of this visionary film, with a rather nice documentary on the making of the film included amongst the extras. Enjoy.