Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Toto, this isn't Oz: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

"Mom!" my sophisticated 22-year-old said to me, "I can't believe you recommended that movie!" "It was a thumbs-up for 'stupid fun,'" I said. "Well," he grumbled back at me, "I can agree with you about the 'stupid' part."

OK, so Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is not great cinema. I like to think that Kerry Conran knows that; if he doesn't, the de Laurentiis tribe, who are all over this film, certainly do. This movie isn't intended to be great cinema. It revels in its formulas: the bickering lovers, the plucky blonde bombshell, the tough-guy hero, the over-wrought segues, the comic-book machinery. If the formulas were all there were to it, Sky Captain would be a giant bore. (By the end of the movie, I was so annoyed with that blonde bombshell and her stupid camera that I could not for the life of me figure out why the Sky Captain was interested in her.) Plot and character are not the reasons to see this film.

As Linda rightly points out, the eye-candy is irresistable: this is a beautiful movie, full of fun stuff to look at. Imagine a thirties-noir film set in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, inhabited by comic-book people and robot monsters (hmm, or robot people and comic-book monsters? I'm not sure). It's one heck of a moving, talking picture book.

On another level, it's a parlor game for film buffs and Oz-ophiles. The references to The Wizard of Oz of 1939 go far beyond the clip early in the film and the music at the end (think, "I am Oz, the great and powerful" when you see the face of Sir Laurence Olivier, for instance.) But there are also references to the later Oz books which will delight those who always preferred the books to the movie, great as it was.

So yeah, it isn't great cinema -- but it's fun, it's pretty, and when it comes out on video, I'll probably rent it to see if there are some Oz references I missed the first time.

But there are movies I'd rather have seen. The first is the back story they alluded to again and again: what happened in Nanking? I'd like to know more about Joe and Frankie's fling, and I'd like to see pretty Polly cut that fuel line, if she did (I'm not convinced she'd have been able to find it.) Why is Frankie so attached to Dex that she'd put her troops and her career on the line to rescue him?

And there are some truly troubling aspects to this film. The women in the film boiled down to a dumb blonde, an Asian bad-babe martial artist, and Frankie, the one character who did something interesting with a stereotype (but she doesn't get the guy, and her plotline goes nowhere.) The bad guys were cast from Xenophobia central, with a tad of anti-intellectualism thrown in.

Upon reflection, I'm giving this film a thumbs-down. I wanted to see the other stories referred to, and neglected, in this one. It would have been so much fun to see the gorgeous artwork employed to tell the backstory in Nanking, or an adventure tale about Frankie (and Linda, did you catch her resemblance to the Ivanova character in Babylon 5?) I want to see the army of artists employed making something not just pretty, but something great.

So yeah, Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. But it isn't Oz, either.


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