Opens: Fri., Sept. 17
The pitch: When German scientists begin to disappear and giant flying robots start attacking cities around the world, sassy reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) pairs up with former flame/heroic mercenary Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan (Jude Law) in a globe-trotting search for suspected evildoer, the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf.
Money shots: The opening sequence shows the Hindenburg III docked at the top of the Empire State Building during a dark and stormy night. Rather than fuss with building sets, filmmakers shot actors in front of blue screens and digitally filled in all of the stunningly detailed backgrounds, including a mystical Shangri-la that makes the Lord of the Rings landscapes look like grade-school sketches.
Flesh factor: While dodging the colossal legs of robots, Polly tears the side seam of her knee-length pencil skirt, revealing the top of her stocking and one inch of pale thigh.
Fashion statements: Sir Paul's daughter and couture fashion designer Stella McCartney created the runway-worthy threads of both Polly Perkins and the Sky Captain. Capt. Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) sports a form-fitting uniform and an eye patch, disproving the long-held belief that pilots need two eyes for proper depth perception.
Pop references: Perkins meets a soon-to-vanish scientist at a screening of The Wizard of Oz. Later, a robot crushes a marquee promoting Wuthering Heights, which sets the year as 1939 -- in a past that never was. "Buck Rogers" comic books litter Dex's work area, and serve as inspiration for his metal-melting laser.
Cameos: Sir Laurence Olivier appears in an eerie beyond-the-grave role as Dr. Totenkopf, but the use of archive footage is much classier than the vacuum commercial with Fred Astaire.
Product placement: Sky Captain does shots of Milk of Magnesia to ease his troubled tummy, and when he arrives in Nepal, he gives his Sherpa a case of Vienna Sausages.
The bottom line: The soft-focus, Technicolor-inspired footage offers an incredibly lush fantasy world, but filmmakers fell into the Star Wars prequel trap by paying so much attention to the digital effects that they forgot to work on the slow-moving story and undeveloped characters.
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