|Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow|
|Directed by||Kerry Conran|
|Produced by||Jon Avnet
|Written by||Kerry Conran|
with Sir Laurence Olivier
and Angelina Jolie
|Music by||Edward Shearmur|
|Editing by||Sabrina Plisco|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures (USA and certain other territories)
Warner Bros. (select countries)
|Release date(s)||United States:
September 17, 2004
|Running time||106 minutes|
|Language||English, German, Tibetan|
|Gross revenue||$57,700,000 (Worldwide)|
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a 2004 American pulp adventure science fiction film written and directed by Kerry Conran in his directorial debut. The film is set in an alternative 1939 and follows the adventures of Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), a newspaper reporter for The Chronicle, and Harry Joseph "Joe" Sullivan (Jude Law), known as "Sky Captain", as they track down the mysterious "Dr. Totenkopf".
Conran spent four years making a black and white teaser trailer with a bluescreen set up in his living room and using a Macintosh IIci personal computer. He was able to get producer Jon Avnet to see it, who was so impressed that he spent two years working with the aspiring filmmaker on his screenplay. None of the major studios were interested in financing such an unusual film with a first-time director. Avnet convinced Aurelio De Laurentiis to finance Sky Captain without a distribution deal.
Almost 100 digital artists, modelers, animators and compositors created the multi-layered 2D and 3D backgrounds for the live-action footage while the entire movie was sketched out via hand-drawn storyboards and then re-created as computer-generated 3D animatics. Ten months before Conran made the movie with his actors, he shot it entirely with stand-ins in Los Angeles and then created the whole movie in animatics so that the actors had an idea of what the film would look like and where to move on the soundstage.
Sky Captain grossed $37.7 million in North America, below its estimated $70 million budget. However, it was marked #1 at the box office and managed to gross $20.1 million in the rest of the world, making its final worldwide tally $57.9 million. Since the overhead of theater and other costs raises the break even point of a film to double its production cost, it lost about $80,000,000. Critical reviews were largely positive and it is notable as one of the first major films (along with Sin City, Able Edwards, Casshern, and Immortal) to be shot entirely on a "digital backlot", blending live actors with computer generated surroundings.
The film opens in 1939 with the arrival of the zeppelin Hindenburg III in New York City, mooring at the Empire State Building. Before he vanishes, a frightened scientist named Dr. Jorge Vargas (Julian Curry) makes arrangements for a package containing two vials to be delivered to a Dr. Walter Jennings (Trevor Baxter). Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), a newspaper reporter for The Chronicle, is looking into the mysterious disappearances of Vargas and five other renowned scientists. She receives a cryptic message, telling her to go to Radio City Music Hall that night. She ignores the warning of her editor, Mr. Paley (Michael Gambon), not to go, and meets Dr. Jennings during a showing of The Wizard of Oz. He tells her that Dr. Totenkopf is coming for him.
Suddenly, air raid sirens go off, heralding the arrival of numerous towering robots that prove all but unstoppable. In desperation, the police call for "Sky Captain" Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), who commands a private air force based in New York, the Flying Legion. While Polly photographs the action from the street, Sullivan knocks out one of the robots and the rest leave. News reports show similar attacks taking place around the globe. The wreckage of the robot is taken back to the Legion's air base so that an expert, Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi), can examine it. Polly follows, hoping to get information for her story. She and Joe are ex-lovers, who broke up three years earlier in China where Polly was reporting the events and Joe serving with the US Air Force. Since Polly has some useful information, Joe agrees to let her in on the investigation.
Her information takes them to the ransacked laboratory of Dr. Jennings, with the scientist himself near death. The killer, a mysterious woman (Bai Ling), escapes in spite of Joe's efforts. The mortally wounded Jennings gives Polly two vials, which he says are crucial to Dr. Totenkopf's plans. Polly withholds this information from Joe. They return to the Legion's base which comes under attack from squadrons of ornithopter drones. In the ensuing battle, Dex manages to track the origin of the robot control signal but is captured. However, he leaves behind a part of a map marking the location of Totenkopf's base.
Joe and Polly find it and head to Nepal. Venturing into the Himalayas, they discover a long abandoned mining outpost. Two of their guides turn out to be working for Totenkopf, forcing Polly to turn over the vials and then locking them both in a room full of explosives which they light. Joe and Polly escape but are knocked unconscious by the explosion in the mine. They wake up together in the mythical Shangri-La. The monks who live there tell of Totenkopf's enslavement of their people, forcing them to work in the uranium mines. Most of them were killed by the radiation, but the final survivor provides another clue to where Totenkopf is hiding. This leads them to rendezvous with Joe's other ex-flame, Commander Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie), who commands a Royal Navy flying aircraft carrier with amphibious submarine aircraft. Franky clears the way while Joe and Polly make it through.
Joe and Polly find themselves inside the mountainous island, which contains numerous strange creatures, many of which appear to be variations of dinosaurs. They travel to the mountain at the very center of the island and penetrate a secret facility located within. There, they discover that it has been hollowed out into a large silo where robots are seen loading animals, as well as the contents of the mysterious vials onto a large "Noah's Ark" rocket.
Joe and Polly are detected and nearly killed, but Dex, piloting a floating barge, arrives in the nick of time with three of the missing scientists. Escaping together, Dex explains that Totenkopf has given up on humanity and seeks to end the world to begin a new one: the "World of Tomorrow". The vials are revealed to be genetic material for a male and female human: a new Adam and Eve. The group makes its way to Totenkopf's booby-trapped lair, with one of the scientists being incinerated alive by robot defense systems as he attempts to enter, while a holographic image of Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier) also appears before them and speaks to them. After Dex disables the defense systems, the group makes its way inside the lair only to discover Totenkopf's decaying body and that he has, in fact, been dead for two decades; his machines have carried on his work.
The only way to sabotage the rocket is from the inside. Polly tries to tag along, but Joe kisses her and knocks her out with a punch. He then goes to sacrifice himself while the others escape. Polly recovers and follows after Joe, arriving just in time to save him from the mysterious woman who turns out to be a robot. The two then board the rocket just before it launches. Before it reaches an altitude of 100 km, when its second launch stage would fire and incinerate the earth, Polly pushes an emergency release button that ejects all the animals in escape pods. Joe tries to disable the rocket only to be interrupted by the revived female robot. He jolts her with her own electric weapon and then uses it on the controls, disabling the rocket. They use another pod to save themselves after successfully sabotaging the rocket, causing it to explode. Joe and Polly watch the animal pods float down to earth from their escape pod. Polly then uses the last shot on her camera to take a picture of Joe. Joe is touched, but sadly tells her that the lens cap was still on the camera. Polly's look of joy turns to a little light-hearted sadness and disappointment.
Kerry Conran grew up on films and comic books of the 1930s and 1940s. He and his brother, Kevin, were encouraged by their parents to develop their creative side at a young age. Kerry studied at a feeder program for Disney animators at CalArts, and became interested in 2-D computer animation. While there, he realized that it was possible to apply some of the techniques associated with animation to live-action. Conran had been out of film school for two years and was trying to figure out how to make a movie. He figured that Hollywood would never take a chance on an inexperienced, first-time filmmaker. So, he decided to make the movie himself.
Conran was influenced by the designs of Norman Bel Geddes, an industrial designer who did work for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and designed exhibits for the 1939 New York World's Fair. Geddes also designed an airship that was to fly from Chicago to London.
Another key influence was Hugh Ferriss, one of the designers for the 1939 World’s Fair who designed bridges and huge housing complexes. He was an American delineator (one who creates perspective drawings of buildings) and architect. In 1922, skyscraper architect Harvey Wiley Corbett commissioned Ferriss to draw a series of four step-by-step perspectives demonstrating the architectural consequences of the 1916 Zoning Resolution. These four drawings would later be used in his 1929 book The Metropolis of Tomorrow (Dover Publications, 2005, ISBN 0-486-43727-2).
Regarding the 1939 New York World's Fair itself and its futuristic theme of the World of Tomorrow, Conran noted: "...obviously the title refers to the World Expo and the spirit of that was looking at the future with a sense of optimism and a sense of the whimsical, you know, something that we've lost a lot in our fantasies. We're more cynical, more practical... I think what this film attempts to do is to take that enthusiasm and innocence and celebrate it-to not get mired in the practicality that we're fixated upon today."
Conran acknowledged his debt to German Expressionism, which was particularly evident in the opening scenes in New York City: "Early German cinema was born of just a completely different aesthetic than what we see nowadays. One of the last things I watched before starting this project was the Dr. Mabuse series that Lang had done - terribly inspirational, the use of art and propaganda even."
Conran summed up what influenced him in making Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: "We tried to approach it almost as though we lived in that era and were just another group of artists trying to make a work out of those pieces and inspirations. We wanted the film to feel like a lost film of that era. If we're a footnote in the history of pulp art and Golden Age comics, that'd be enough, that'd be great. If we even just inspire some people to go back and investigate some of that stuff, we'd have done enough."
Sky Captain has a number of commonalities with the famous Hayao Miyazaki animation Laputa: Castle in the Sky. The sky pirates, focus on primitive mechanics, large airships, and military cultures are similar. Both stories center on an evil madman with control over an island of high technology and the search for that island. Laputa has the evil madman searching for the island while Sky Captain has the island as the base of the madman from the beginning. Sky Captain is also different in its message which is largely about the film genre while Laputa has strong anti-war and anti-technology themes found in most of Miyazaki's work.. Additionally, both the Hayao Miyazaki film and Sky Captain pay homage to the 1941 Superman Cartoon The Mechanical Monsters.
In 1994, Conran set up a bluescreen in his living room and began assembling the tools he would need to create his movie. He was not interested in working his way through the system and instead wanted to follow the route of independent filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh. Initially, Kerry and his brother had nothing more than "just a vague idea of this guy who flew a plane. We would talk about all the obvious things like Indiana Jones and all the stuff we liked." Conran spent four years making a black and white teaser trailer in the style of an old-fashioned movie serial on his Macintosh IIci personal computer. Once he was finished, Conran showed it to producer Marsha Oglesby, who was a friend of his brother's wife and she recommended that he let producer Jon Avnet see it. Conran met Avnet and showed him the trailer. Conran told him that he wanted to make it into a movie. They spent two or three days just talking about the tone of the movie.
Avnet and Conran spent two years working on the screenplay, which included numerous genre-related references and homages, and developing a working relationship. Then, the producer took the script and the trailer and began approaching actors. In order to protect Conran's vision, Avnet decided to shoot the movie independently with a lot of his own money. The producer realized that "the very thing that made this film potentially so exciting for me, and I think for an audience, which was the personal nature of it and the singularity of the vision, would never succeed and never survive the development process within a studio."
Avnet went to Aurelio De Laurentiis and convinced him to finance the film without a distribution deal. Nine months before filming, Avnet had Conran meet the actors and begin rehearsals in an attempt to get the shy filmmaker out of his shell. Avnet set up a custom digital effects studio with a blue screen soundstage in an abandoned building in Van Nuys, California. A group of almost 100 digital artists, modelers, animators and compositors created multi-layered 2D and 3D backgrounds for the live action footage yet to be filmed.
The entire movie was sketched out via hand-drawn storyboards and then re-created as computer-generated 3D animatics with all of the 2D background photographs digitally painted to resemble the 1939 setting. With the animatics as a guide, grids were created to map camera and actor movements with digital characters standing in for the real actors. The grids were made into actual maps on the blue screen stage floor to help the actors move around invisible scenery.
Ten months before Conran made the movie with his actors, he shot it entirely with stand-ins in Los Angeles and then created the whole movie in animatics so that the actors had an idea of what the film would look like and where to move on the soundstage. To prepare for the film, Conran had his cast watch old movies, like Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944) for Paltrow's performance and The Thin Man (1934) for the relationship between Nick and Nora that was to be echoed in the one between Joe and Polly. Avnet constantly pushed for room in this meticulously designed movie for the kind of freedom the actors needed, like being able to move around on the soundstage.
Conran and Avnet were able to cut costs considerably by shooting the entire movie in 26 days (not the usual three to four months that this kind of movie normally takes) on high-definition video using a Sony HDW-F900 and working entirely on three different blue screen soundstages in London, England with one notable exception. Conran wrote a scene that was added later on where Polly talks to her editor in his office that was shot on a physical set because there was no time to shoot it on a blue screen soundstage. The footage from the HD camera was run through a switcher and then through a Macintosh computer running Final Cut Pro that allowed the filmmakers to line up the animatics with the live onstage footage. Conran said, "I don't know how we would have made this movie. It's really what allowed us to line up everything, given there was nothing there." After each day of shooting, footage was edited and sent overnight to editors in L.A. who added CGI and sent it back.
After filming ended, they put together a 24-minute presentation and took it to every studio in June 2002. There was a lot of interest and Avnet selected the studio that gave Conran the most creative control. They needed studio backing to finish the film's ambitious visuals. At one point, the producer remembers that Conran was "working 18 to 20 hours a day for a long period of time. It's 2,000 some odd CGI shots done in one year, and we literally had to write code to figure out how to do this stuff!" Most of the post-production work was done on Mac workstations using After Effects for compositing and Final Cut Pro for editing (seven workstations were dedicated to visual effects and production editing). The distinctive look of the film was achieved by running footage through a diffusion filter and then tinting it in black and white before color was blended, balanced and added back in.
Sir Laurence Olivier, who died in 1989, posthumously appears as the villain and mad scientist Dr. Totenkopf. His likeness was produced using digitally manipulated archival BBC footage of the actor and thus adding one more film to his repertoire. A similar move was made two years later in the 2006 Superman Returns film with Marlon Brando. Avnet cultivated a calculated release for the movie by first moving its release date from the summer (it was supposed to open a week before Spider-Man 2) to September, then courting the Internet press and finally making an appearance at the San Diego Comic Con with key cast members in an attempt to generate some advance buzz.
|Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)|
|Soundtrack by Edward Shearmur|
|Released||September 7, 2004|
Composer Edward Shearmur (The Wings of the Dove, Charlie's Angels) wrote the film's lavish orchestral score in the style of Hollywood's golden-age composers, and the film's end-title sequence featured a new recording of the Oscar-winning standard "Over the Rainbow" sung by the acclaimed young American jazz singer Jane Monheit, which were all featured on Sony Classical's original motion picture soundtrack recording.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow had high box office expectations, opening in first place on its September 17, 2004 release date and grossing USD $15.5 million on its opening weekend. However the film only grossed $37.7 million in North America, below its estimated $70 million budget. It managed to gross $20.1 million in the rest of the world, making its final worldwide tally $57.9 million.
Critical reviews were largely positive. The film currently has a 72% rating (with a 70% for their "Cream of the Crop" designation) on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert was among those who strongly supported the film, giving it a 4-star review and praising it for "its heedless energy and joy, it reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's like a film that escaped from the imagination directly onto the screen, without having to pass through reality along the way". Stephen Holden of The New York Times lauded its visuals and its evocation of a bygone era but felt that "the monochromatic variations on sepia keep the actors and their adventures at a refined aesthetic distance... At times the film is hard to see. And as the action accelerates, the wonder of its visual concept starts giving way to sci-fi clichés". In his review for the Chicago Reader, J.R. Jones wrote, "This debut feature by Kerry Conran is a triumph not only for its technical mastery but for its good taste". Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A-" rating, saying, "The investment is optimistic and wise; Sky Captain is a gorgeous, funny, and welcome novelty". USA Today said that the film was "all style over substance, a clever parlor trick but a dull movie". Stephen Hunter, of the Washington Post, called it, "a $70 million novelty item".
First-time director Conran incorporated many references to classic genre films into his own movie: "The work of those artists and writers [from the pulps and Golden Age of Comic Books] was really the template for us. To some extent we stole from it, to some extent we expanded on it -- hopefully we added enough of our own sensibility. We tried to approach it almost as though we lived in that era and were just another group of artists trying to make a work comprised of those pieces and inspirations. We wanted the film to feel like a lost film of that era."
When early in the film newspaper clippings from around the globe are shown, in the Japanese newspaper the iconic silhouette of Godzilla is clearly visible. Similarly, during the New York sequence when Sky Captain deploys a bomb to stop a giant robot, the shape of King Kong can be seen on the Empire State Building in the background. During the underwater dogfight sequence a light momentarily displays the wreckage of a ship with the name "Venture"—the tramp steamer that sailed to Skull island in the 1933 version of King Kong.
The Flying Legion is a homage to pulp-comic book heroes such as G-8, Captain Midnight, and Blackhawk. Also, production designer Kevin Conran, the brother of director Kerry Conran, based the design of the flying humanoid robots, in part, on the helmet worn by the DC Comics superhero Adam Strange and controls on Commando Cody's rocket-pack (see image, right).
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a 2004 film about a reporter who teams up with an ace pilot in search of the origin of a series of attacks to New York City from giant flying robots, as well as the reason for the disappearances of famous scientists around the world.