Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW
Film Rating: /
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow (Polly Perkins), Jude Law (Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan), Giovanni Ribisi (Dex)
Written by: Kerry Conran
Directed by: Kerry Conran
Join the Resistance.
Over the next while you may seem me looking back at previously released Blu-ray titles from Paramount and posting my thoughts about them on the forum. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is the first of these titles but in the future I’ve decided to make these kinds of reviews much shorter with a focus only on A/V quality.
HTF DVD Reviewer Pat Wahlquist writes: Part Indiana Jones, part Buck Rogers and a loving homage to 1930’s serials, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow shows us a world that may have been had the Industrial Revolution gone just a bit differently. Kerry Conran’s picture is a technological marvel, in that there were no sets or environments, for the most part. Everything with the actors was done in front of green screen, and then the environments were digitally added later. Technological marvel aside, is it a good show?
When a dark and murky New York City of the early 1900’s is attacked by giant robots hell bent on sucking all the power out of the great metropolis, it’s up to Sky Captain (Jude Law) to save the day. Sky Captain comes whizzing in with his plane, guns ablaze, to stem the threat of the robot’s attack all while saving the girl, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), an intrepid reporter who smells the big story. Polly finds out there is a greater plot afoot, and an evil scientist is trying to take over the world. When Sky Captain’s base is attacked and his tech-y sidekick, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) is kidnapped, the mission becomes more personal, and Cap and Polly fly across the world and back to put an end to the bad guy’s schemes!
In writing that synopsis of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I thought I had left something out of the basic plot, but there really isn’t much more to it. I had not seen this picture prior to this viewing, but I had heard plenty of complaining about it. However, I enjoyed it on a very visceral level, not paying too much attention to the thinness of the plot and allowing myself to be swept up in the visuals of it all. I would also think that by adding three A-List actors to the mix would give this film some more zip, since it’s surely lacking in what should be a fun time. I appreciate the fact Conran has taken his subject matters so seriously, but these types of stories, especially the age they are extolling, benefit from the snappy patter of the leads. The only exception to this is Angelina Jolie, who plays a rival for Sky Captain’s affections; Jolie eats up every bit of her scene and she is a joy to watch.
VIDEO QUALITY 5/5
When viewing this MPEG-2 encoded video presentation of a movie shot entirely in HD with Sony HDW-F900 cameras, everything seems right with the image. Even though it isn’t noted on the Blu-ray case, the intended theatrical ratio is 1.85:1. This Blu-ray release takes off that matte and delivers the movie at 1.78:1, the ratio of the original photography. The picture is most likely direct from an HD master tape to maximize the full HD resolution of the photography for playback. The results are spectacular.
When viewing this title, you may think that the image is too soft. While that may be true if comparing it to a raw HD recording, the upgrades over SD-DVD are quite noticeable. If I were to analyse this movie on a scene by scene basis, I could start by telling you that the opening credits are much more defined with sharp and distinct lettering that is independent of the image in the background. They take on a floating character that is unachievable in standard definition and do no suffer from blurred and smeared edges.
Staying on the topic of “writing”, I’ll note that the newspaper print that commonly occurs throughout the film is all but blurry. If you really wanted to, I’m sure you could hit the pause button on your player and read the text of every story on the newspaper!
The alteration to the video (that contributes to the soft character of this film) is very intentional. This, along with white levels that sometimes bloom and blend as well as cast of sepia over the entire image, has successfully recreated the look of a 1930’s serial drama. Expect this look from beginning to end. The only thing that wasn’t added was simulated film grain – and that is fine by me because I don’t think the overall impression wasn’t supposed to look like an old film, but rather looking through a time tunnel that is clear, but with a look common associated with that era. I think great pains have been taken to create this look and keep it consistent on a scene by scene basis. Not once did I ever criticize the look for being unnatural or “too tweaked.” In my opinion it is a job well done.
Unlike other Paramount titles I’ve viewed (as of 10/22 there have only been three), there is not a hair of edge enhancement on this disc. I’m not sure why Paramount considers edge enhancement acceptable on film sources because I don’t find it beneficial at all. I think they were wise to leave this HD movie untouched and deliver it “as is.”
For the MPEG-2 bashers out there, compression artefacts are not an issue nor did I feel like the video quality wasn’t translating well to my screen. I’m going to say this is a flawless transfer being delivered exactly as it should be. To make happy those who don’t believe MPEG-2 should be acceptable in the world of HD, I believe Paramount is switching to VC-1 with their future releases.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4.5/5
To complement the video, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has an awesome 5.1 soundtrack that is sports good resolution, dynamic range, and a better than average balanced frequency on effects. Unlike other films I’ve reviewed recently, this soundtrack isn’t fatiguing it all. It’s loud when it’s supposed to be and quiet when those moments are called for. In all of the action scenes (actually, that consists of almost the entire movie!), sounds are placed aggressively in the 360-degree soundstage to create a realism never achieved by any magnetic-mono track in the ‘30s. So thank modern technology for the update! Most of the sounds are well integrated to create good spatial detail, although I think a bit more could have been done to recreate ambience of sounds resonating through the high buildings in New York’s city streets. Some effects sound too direct, or without some kind of spatial processing to give it a bit more depth and realism to the visuals on screen. I’m not going to complain too much though, because all sounds in all channels work very well together to create a close to seamless soundspace.
Bass POUNDS in all channels – none of the channels in your home theatre will escape the deep impact the bass in this soundtrack delivers (unless you have bass management applied and you want to torture your subwoofer only). The spread of deep and hard hitting sound effects around the soundstage enhances the realism (and fun) movie soundtracks try to achieve. Adding a good dose of bass also doesn’t make the film soundtrack so bright. That extra bit of bass presence helps with the perception of a more balanced soundtrack. I didn’t find the treble to be overbearing at all!
The only thing absent is a lossless audio soundtrack. This disc does include both lossy formats (DTS and Dolby Digital) but they pale in comparison to the sound of an uncompressed PCM option. The differences are negligible yet again, except for the -4dB drop in audio on the Dolby Digital soundtrack. I’m not going to give an edge to either soundtrack because honestly, after years of comparisons of something so small, I’m starting to find it trivial when I demand more advanced audio options.
TACTILE FUN!! /
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
Using a tactile transducer is very effective when watching this movie! When the robots stomp down the streets of New York it feels like the pavement is crumbling beneath you! Be it the attack scenes in the middle of the movie or the rocket ship climax, a good sofa shaker is a welcomed addition to enhance the LFE channel!!
SPECIAL FEATURES /
The special features on this Blu-ray disc are the same as on the HD-DVD and on both releases, all features (except for the inclusion of the theatrical trailer in HD) are identical to the DVD. This is great news! Now that the high-def version is available (on whichever format you have chosen) we don’t have to keep or refer to our SD-DVD for “other” features. This is consistent with the three Paramount titles I’ve viewed so far. Excellent!!
Scott Kimball wrote about the features for the 2004 DVD release and I’ve included his write-up for this BD review.
HTF DVD Reviewer Scott Kimball wrote:
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 not very detailed. 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 (4:3) - 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 (4:3, 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 (16:9) - 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.
Deleted Scenes (16:9)
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” option.
Gag Reel (16:9, 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.
Anatomy of a Virtual Scene (16:9) – shows how scenes are shot with green screens and virtual backgrounds added. You wouldn’t believe how much of this movie is actually “fake.”
There are three theatrical trailers in HD on this disc too.
IN THE END...
It’s an awesome looking Blu-ray disc to deliver the intended look. The soundtrack is just as exciting as the movie and thus I’m going to recommend this title.
October 22, 2006.