Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (HD-DVD) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: PG13 (stylized sci-fi violence and brief mild language) Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: VC-1 Audio: English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; English DTS 5.1 (see Audio section) Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH Time: 106 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date: 2004 HD-DVD Release Date: June 25, 2006 Movie Review Note: As I move into more HD-DVD reviews, I am cutting back on the length of my comments on the movie itself to deal more with the technical aspects of this new format. This will be done specifically on the catalog titles provided by Paramount. When they begin releasing titles day and date, I will spend more of the review on the merits (or lack thereof) of the title. 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, 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: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. Thus, the HD-DVD discs are being displayed in 1080i for evaluation purposes. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units. Correctly framed at 1.85:1, the picture is smooth and soft while still showing fine detail. I had some trouble evaluating this picture since it was “shot” so soft, but you are able to see plenty of detail if you pay close attention. What is there under the softness is sharp and clear, such as in the pilot’s helmets and gear or the lettering on some of the instruments and mechanics in the rocket bay. Sky Captain has a very muted color scheme to emphasize it’s period setting as well as a homage to similar films of the past. Even still, flesh tones seem natural and life like among the CGI environment. Black levels are good and show detail. I noticed no edge enhancement, video noise or picture dirt. In comparing the HD-DVD to the SD DVD, you will notice increased sharpness around all of the objects. The halos which are part of the look of the picture tend to make the image more of a blob in the SD version, but that issue goes away in the HD-DVD. The SD also seems to suffer from more video noise, and that too is gone in the HD version. While this is a definite improvement to the picture on HD, it’s not quite as noticeable as it has been on some of the other recent releases. As an aside, I had recorded Sky Captain off of my HD cable service. In comparing the HD-DVD to the cable HD, the disc was much cleaner and lacked the video noise my cable company introduced into the picture. This was an interesting exercise to see this picture on three different mediums to gain a further appreciation of how each format, SD, HDTV and HD-DVD present an image. Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is attained by a 5.1 analog connection I watched the feature with the Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) track engaged. This is one of the most active tracks I have heard in some time. There are plenty of panning effects between all of the channels and the surrounds are used almost constantly. The surrounds also stay engaged during the quieter sequences to further maintain the mood (check out the jungle scene in Chapter 13, for example). Bass levels are good, but they don’t go as deep as I would expect in a soundtrack such as this, so you may want to drop your levels to compensate. Voices are clear and natural but tend to jump out at you a little bit. The package lists the DTS track as being DTS-HD, but it doesn’t appear to be the case. In the menu set up I could only select the DTS 5.1 track and there is no mention of a DTS HD track. There was no DTS on the SD release. In comparing the DD+ and DTS tracks, the DD+ exhibits a cleaner and higher frequency response, where as the DTS track seems almost muted. Bass is deeper in the DD+ track and it packs more of a punch, such as when the robots are walking the streets of New Your City. Bonus Material: With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. All of the bonus features were ported over from the SD release. The only “upgrade” in this area is the trailers are in HD. Commentary by Producer Jon Avnet Commentary by Writer and Director Kerry Conran and the VFX crew- production designer Kevin Conran, animation director/ digital effects supervisor Steve Yamamoto and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings Brand New World, Chapters 1 and 2 (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+) The Art of World of Tomorrow (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+) The Original Six-Minute Short (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+) Deleted Scenes (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+) Totenkopf’s Torture Room and The Conveyer Belt. Gag Reel (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+) Anatomy of a Virtual Scene (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+) 3 Theatrical Trailers (in HD) (VC-1, 1.85:1, DD+) Other notes on this HD-DVD edition: - The A and B buttons that can be utilized on some HD-DVD titles do not appear to have any function on this title. However, you can use press the menu button during the feature to get the menu items to rise up if you want to utilize them. - I use the on-screen display function extensively when doing reviews for time markers and audio and video formatting. This disc would disable several remote functions until I turned off the on-screen display. I have not noticed this issue on the HD discs from Warner’s or Universal. Conclusions: With Art Deco stylings, aerial hyjinks, some pretty faces and enough processor horsepower you too can make a big-budget Hollywood picture. The line between how much is physically needed seems to be less and less as Sky Captain proves. While no stunning achievement in story, it’s still an enjoyable diversion for a Saturday matinee, and the HD-DVD gives us a fine presentation with some familiar extras.