Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

See it and love it!

Do you wonder where the spirit of "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones," and countless cliff-hanging movies and radio serials went? It's been waiting to surprise us at the end of a summer that saw a surpassing "Spiderman 2" and a forgettable "Lost Skeleton of Cadavra." It comes in an almost perfect form of comic book thrills, imagination, and muted irony: "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow."

Debut writer/director Kerry Conran has taken years to fashion the best fantasy of this year inspired by the likes of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and "Metropolis," to name a few. In the futuristic world of 1939 (A splendid year for a very forward-thinking World's Fair and an iconic "Wizard of Oz," which does plenty of background and thematic time in "Captain"), Sky Captain (Jude Law) is asked to help rid the world of an old-fashioned megalomaniac Dr. Totenkopf (a digitally reconstituted Laurence Olivier), who has subjected the world to monstrously large robots and bird-like fighter planes that take down Gotham in a New York minute. Hats off to DP Eric Adkins, whose re-creation of '40's Radio City Music Hall made me almost cry in nostalgic reverie for when my parents and I made the pilgrimage by Pullman from Rochester.

Helping Captain is the embodiment of snippy '30's reporter and timeless beauty, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has a past with the Captain but a present flirtation that is the best of romances--distant, sarcastic, deeply felt, but never an intrusion on the task at hand, to find Totenkopf in the Shangri-La of Nepal. As an bonus, Angelina Jolie shows up in form-fitting flight suit, eye patch, and credible British accent as Franky, a rival to Polly's interest in Captain and to Captain's flying superiority.

Beyond the perfect pitch of comic book, screwball romance is impressive CGI, all shots of real actors set against blue background, then filled in meticulously and unobtrusively with graphics that capture the imaginative excitement of sci fi and adventure. Nothing but a computer could create the sight and sound of a gigantic robotic foot nearly crushing Polly as she tries for that Pulitzer shot of the invasion. All this stylistic virtuosity bogs down the latter part of the film as Conran slows down with the love triangle and yet more overpowering graphics.

"The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" emphasizes how re-creations of mid-twentieth science fiction can go wrong. "Skeleton" attempts to satirize the "B" sci fi films and in so doing falls flat because it violates the first rule of satire--play it straight and let the material laugh at itself. In other words, don't force what is obvious--all this romance is silly and over-the-top, but it appeals to a child-like wonder of futuristic dreaming that is seriously hidden inside of us all. "Sky Captain" respects our dreams, recreates them gloriously, and slyly reveals that love in the service of mankind will out.

See it and love it.