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JulyDiaz

Episode 189 - Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: LIVE!

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The lens cap is off

 

Maybe the meta-joke is that Sky Captain is just messing with Polly Perkins? Like telling someone that their shoelaces are untied, which actually are tied but they glance down to check - "made you look!"

 

In any case, as several reviews have pointed out, if the lens cap WAS on, the un-exposed film could be used for another try at the photo!

 

Anyone who has studied photography 101 knows that she could just rewind the film as it an old timey camera meaning the film hasn’t been exposed. But the audience who probably knows nothing of photography or anything else gets a cheap laugh.
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Towards the end of the movie, Dex finally reveals Totenkopf's plan. Dex says that "when the rocket reaches 100 km, at the edge of space, Earth will be incinerated." For perspective, at 100 km, you'd only be 0.026% on your way to the moon. 100 km is hardly on the "edge of space."

This was something that bothered me too. First, for whose benefit is the distance from earth measured in the metric system? Is it Max Headroom Laurence Olivier? Or British Sky Captain? Or the German scientists? But the statute mile is the accepted unit of measurement for distance in both Britain and in the United States. EVERYONE who said it sounded weird saying 'kilometre'. Why not say miles for the benefit of your audiences?

 

And on that same note, Sky Captain and Polly successfully manage to electrocute Bai Ling and the control panel right before the rocket gets to the magical 100km mark, and in the next shot the rocket explodes, leaving our heroes to gently parachute back to earth. But that rocket was filled with two of every animal that ever lived. It's JAMMED with species. And then it explodes. In a giant fireball. TWO OF EVERY SPECIES ON EARTH JUST GOT LIT UP AND ARE NOW RAINING DOWN ON THE SEA. Why aren't Sky Captain and Polly ducking bits of falling, flaming cows and horses?

 

Incidentally, the logic of Noah's Ark has been queried a bunch, about just the logistics and weight of that many animals. From Genesis:

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

That's a LOT of weight. In this excellent article, the difficulty of hauling all those animals becomes very apparent:

A cow weighs about half a ton; so, for the clean cattle alone, we're talking 3.5 tons. Ditto for camels, perhaps 3/4 ton for sheep, and 1/2 ton for goats. Add in all the marsupials, bison, rhinoceroses, elephants, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and so on, and we quickly exceed 1600 tons for animals alone, let alone their feed.

The rockets in Totenkopf's plan are good, but they'd have to be some kind of Tardis machine to fit all the species they're claiming to carry. Which are then promptly barbecued by Sky Captain.

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Sorry for the multiple posts, but I also wanted to ask if anyone else got Citizen Kane vibes from this movie? Citizen Kane was fresh on my mind, thanks to Unspooled (the new podcast series covering the AFI 100), so I noticed a few similarities from Sky Captain. For example, in many dialogue scenes, the screen is divided so that the speaker is facing the camera and on the left, while we only see the back of the head of the receiver/audience on the right of the screen, very similar to shots in Citizen Kane.

 

Then there is the name of the newspaper that Polly works for, The Chronicle. Kane ran the Inquirer, but during the breakfast table montage with Kane's first wife, as their relationship deteriorates we see that Emily starts reading the rival paper, The Chronicle.

 

Lastly, when they showed Totenkopf's castle, did anyone else think this looked like Kane's castle, Xanadu?

 

vDWWt74.png

 

"Conran admits that he 'stole' from everything from comic books to B science fiction films to Citizen Kane."

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I'd also like to point out that Totenkopf's name literally translates to KILL HEAD, the most unfortunate villain naming in a long time. I believe it's supposed to properly translate to 'Death's Head', which explains the skull motifs on all of the robots, but I think we can all agree that it's a lot more amusing to have a villain named KILL HEAD.

 

With a name like that, I guess we shouldn't be surprised about the nefarious plan, but was I the only one who felt like the "and also then the earth will be incinerated" plot point was tacked on at the last minute? I feel like if the plan is to take off with animals and jizz vials to travel to NO ONE KNOWS WHERE - essentially Totenkopf is planning to recreate the flashback scene from 'Wall-E' - then no one on earth is harmed aside from having had their stuff stolen and shot into space. The only way to raise the stakes for everyone is to ADR in some dialogue which says "also by the way he's going to kill us too". But there's nothing stated about HOW we are going to all be incinerated: there's no Star-Killer base warming up and getting ready to kill the planet, and there's no countdown in KILL HEAD'S lair that will detonate. We just take it for granted that oh yeah by the way I think he'll kill us all too. How will he incinerate the earth? And why? You're leaving, you're going to the World of Tomorrow (with no humans to populate it, of course: what about THAT?), just wave goodbye and enjoy your retirement, KILL HEAD!

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This was something that bothered me too. First, for whose benefit is the distance from earth measured in the metric system? Is it Max Headroom Laurence Olivier? Or British Sky Captain? Or the German scientists? But the statute mile is the accepted unit of measurement for distance in both Britain and in the United States. EVERYONE who said it sounded weird saying 'kilometre'. Why not say miles for the benefit of your audiences?

 

And on that same note, Sky Captain and Polly successfully manage to electrocute Bai Ling and the control panel right before the rocket gets to the magical 100km mark, and in the next shot the rocket explodes, leaving our heroes to gently parachute back to earth. But that rocket was filled with two of every animal that ever lived. It's JAMMED with species. And then it explodes. In a giant fireball. TWO OF EVERY SPECIES ON EARTH JUST GOT LIT UP AND ARE NOW RAINING DOWN ON THE SEA. Why aren't Sky Captain and Polly ducking bits of falling, flaming cows and horses?

 

Well, the rocket countdown started in English, so who even knows.

 

Before they fried the control panel, Polly pressed the emergency release button and all the pods containing the animals were on their way back to earth way before the explosion.

 

The rockets in Totenkopf's plan are good, but they'd have to be some kind of Tardis machine to fit all the species they're claiming to carry. Which are then promptly barbecued by Sky Captain.

 

Hmm, maybe that's why they were shrinking animals?

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Well, the rocket countdown started in English, so who even knows.

 

Before they fried the control panel, Polly pressed the emergency release button and all the pods containing the animals were on their way back to earth way before the explosion.

 

Hmm, maybe that's why they were shrinking animals?

I had a FEELING that I'd missed something there: by that point I'm 100% certain I was doing something else so missed all the nuance and detail of that climactic moment. Ah well. But now who deals with thousands of pods of traumatised parachuted animals in non-native environments? I'm glad for the animals' sake that they weren't cooked in the explosion.

 

Yes, the shrinking animals thing was something that was underutilized: did anyone else think of Spy Kids 2?

 

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Oh. Then no need for me to bring up the similarities to Bride of Frankenstein. LOL

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Oh. Then no need for me to bring up the similarities to Bride of Frankenstein. LOL

Ok.Gwyneth Paltrow may have some kooky ideas, but this is just rude

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I"m going to start responding to emails where people pitch me things with, "This is a big bag of no thanks."

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Sorry for the multiple posts, but I also wanted to ask if anyone else got Citizen Kane vibes from this movie? Citizen Kane was fresh on my mind, thanks to Unspooled (the new podcast series covering the AFI 100), so I noticed a few similarities from Sky Captain. For example, in many dialogue scenes, the screen is divided so that the speaker is facing the camera and on the left, while we only see the back of the head of the receiver/audience on the right of the screen, very similar to shots in Citizen Kane.

 

Then there is the name of the newspaper that Polly works for, The Chronicle. Kane ran the Inquirer, but during the breakfast table montage with Kane's first wife, as their relationship deteriorates we see that Emily starts reading the rival paper, The Chronicle.

 

Lastly, when they showed Totenkopf's castle, did anyone else think this looked like Kane's castle, Xanadu?

 

vDWWt74.png

 

That's funny, because I was going to say it gave me a lot of Ben-Hur vibes (Episode 2 of Unspooled) in that the filmmakers seemed more interested in spectacle than storytelling. As if people would be so busy "oohing" and "awing" over the technological achievement that they would ignore the fact that the story was paper thin.

 

Now, we need to tie it in to The Wizard of Oz, so we can hit the Unspooled trifecta! :)

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That's funny, because I was going to say it gave me a lot of Ben-Hur (Episode 2 of Unspooled) vibes in that the filmmakers seemed more interested in spectacle than storytelling. As if people would be so busy "oohing" and "awing" over the technological achievement that they would ignore the fact that the story is paper thin.

 

Now, if we need to tie it in to The Wizard of Oz, so we can hit the Unspooled trifecta! :)/>/>

The robots are the Tin Man. Lawrence Olivier is a floating head like the wizard when we first see him. Giovanni Ribisi plays a dog. So, he is Toto.

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The robots are the Tin Man. Lawrence Olivier is a floating head like the wizard when we first see him. Giovanni Ribisi plays a dog. So, he is Toto.

 

Yay!

 

giphy.gif

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I am still in several states of shock that Olivier was in this movie. Olivier was a big part of my PhD thesis (which included the chance to examine his personal annotated shooting script for 'Richard III' which is held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC) and along with Branagh, I've become very sentimentally attached to him over the years. As such, it was a real surprise to see his likeness in this awful movie: which makes me wonder what on earth his estate was doing giving permission for it. Olivier was well known to be a curmudgeonly old bastard, and famously played Zeus in 'Clash of the Titans' entirely for the paycheck, with no real interest in the product (a lot like another of the Theatrical Knights around the same time, Alec Guinness, who slummed it to play Obi-Wan Kenobi and was vocal about what he thought of the content he was asked to say). I know that Olivier is reputed to have sold the portrait Salvador Dali made of him as Richard III to pay for his grandchildrens' schooling, and I know that Joan Plowright, Larry's widow, played a teacher in 'The Last Action Hero', showing the 'Now Might I Do It Pat' scene to a class full of kids, introducing him as "the man from the Mr Coffee commercials", so he's no stranger to selling out. But THIS? This is mind-boggling to me. They can't have possibly paid enough for his likeness for THIS to be his final film role, could they?

 

ETA: it seems they were pretty up-beat about it at the time: https://www.eonline.com/news/47917/olivier-resurrected-in-sky-captain

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It's a testament to how dull and non-engaging this film is that I saw it in the theater when it was released and remembered NONE of it. So much so, I couldn't remember the ending, and I assumed it was going to be revealed that DEX WAS THE VILLAIN.

 

It would explain why he has such technical knowledge of not just machines, but seemingly of Totenkopf's base and his plan. And that would explain why he was kidnapped for seemingly no reason and not killed, and why he was able to escape so easily (seriously, they just show up and he's FINE!). Maybe he was Totenkopf's son working as a spy, always misdirecting Sky Captain as to the source of the robots.

 

And that's another thing: The robots attacked the city and flew away, then Sky Captain says they have no idea where these robots are coming from. HE'S IN A PLANE. Why doesn't Sky Captain just FOLLOW THE ROBOTS?

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QPd3tiu.jpg

 

Does Sky Captain take place in the Godzilla cinematic universe?

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It's a testament to how dull and non-engaging this film is that I saw it in the theater when it was released and remembered NONE of it. So much so, I couldn't remember the ending, and I assumed it was going to be revealed that DEX WAS THE VILLAIN.

 

Hah, I completely forgot that Angelina Jolie was only in this movie for about five minutes.

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The question of when this movie takes place was brought up in the show. If Godzilla exists in it then it probably takes place some time after the end of WWII, as traditionally Godzilla was awakened and empowered by the nuclear radiation from the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

 

Godzillas existence in this movie also only puts it one degree of separation away from Marvel, as they published a 24 issue series in which Godzilla fought the Avengers, SHIELD, and other Marvel characters since they only had the rights to Godzilla and not the other monsters for him to fight. This leads to the biggest question, when will they put Sky Captain in the MCU?

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QPd3tiu.jpg

 

Does Sky Captain take place in the Godzilla cinematic universe?

They mention this in the episode. My question is that this movie takes place in the 1940s but Godzilla came out in the 1950s. Of all the anachronisms, this one bothers me most.

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This is a very quick and very minor thing that I noticed. When Sky Captain and Polly are approaching Totenkopf's lair in the Lost World we pan up a set of stairs leading up to it. On those stairs we see the skeleton of a saber tooth tiger chained up. However most people when they chain up a pet do so by affixing the chain to a collar which goes around the neck. Yet we clearly see that this poor saber tooth was chained up by an ankle collar on this front paw. Why would a genius like Totenkopf do this? If he's suppose to be a guard creature of some sort and ankle chain would only hinder his effectiveness. He couldn't swipe properly and his distance in severely hampered. If he was a pet, why not let him roam free like the dinosaurs? I just feel sad for this dead neglected fella.

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Well them starting off the movie with a prominent close-up of the "Hindenburg III" makes it clear from the get-go that history in the movie's universe hasn't unfolded in quite the same way as our own. If there's a zeppelin that never really existed at all, existing events could have occurred at different times. (Similar to how the sitcom The Goldbergs takes place in a deliberately vague "1980something" that blends its creator's memories of the entire decade, so that he can go to see Poltergeist on its theatrical run which was in the summer of 1982, but in the same episode wear a T-shirt of Top Gun and play The Legend of Zelda both of which didn't come out until 1986.) It's far from alone in such regard - the 1930s Frankenstein movies take place in a setting that's a mix of their own decade and the early 1800s of Mary Shelley's original book. And the anachronisms are less of a stretch than, say, Captain America: The First Avenger having the Unisphere which wasn't built until 1964.

 

In fact, there's even a science fiction short story that won both of the top prizes for that category (the Hugo and Nebula awards) that specifically takes place in an alternate history wherein zeppelins regularly dock with the Empire State Building using technology that has been developed in the wake of the first and only World War - Fritz Leiber's "Catch That Zeppelin!" With Leiber spelling out what is implied in Sky Captain that Nazism never arose in the alternate timeline - instead of developing technologies of warfare, Germany has developed peaceful use of blimp tech that is clearly impractical for aerial combat.

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Well them starting off the movie with a prominent close-up of the "Hindenburg III" makes it clear from the get-go that history in the movie's universe hasn't unfolded in quite the same way as our own. If there's a zeppelin that never really existed at all, existing events could have occurred at different times. (Similar to how the sitcom The Goldbergs takes place in a deliberately vague "1980something" that blends its creator's memories of the entire decade, so that he can go to see Poltergeist on its theatrical run which was in the summer of 1982, but in the same episode wear a T-shirt of Top Gun and play The Legend of Zelda both of which didn't come out until 1986.) It's far from alone in such regard - the 1930s Frankenstein movies take place in a setting that's a mix of their own decade and the early 1800s of Mary Shelley's original book. And the anachronisms are less of a stretch than, say, Captain America: The First Avenger having the Unisphere which wasn't built until 1964.

 

In fact, there's even a science fiction short story that won both of the top prizes for that category (the Hugo and Nebula awards) that specifically takes place in an alternate history wherein zeppelins regularly dock with the Empire State Building using technology that has been developed in the wake of the first and only World War - Fritz Leiber's "Catch That Zeppelin!" With Leiber spelling out what is implied in Sky Captain that Nazism never arose in the alternate timeline - instead of developing technologies of warfare, Germany has developed peaceful use of blimp tech that is clearly impractical for aerial combat.

Don't forget Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, which is about as silly and ridiculous and sublimely brilliant as anything that's been written in the last decade or so. Set in Swindon in a parallel 1985 (at least the first book is), everyone travels by zeppelin, watches major league croquet, and has genetically reengineered extinct species as pets.

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I've come back after an extended absence, solely to defend this film.

 

Actually, I don't know if it can be defended per se, but I can try and help explain it.

 

Ya see, back in the 30s, world war 1 pilot Eddie Rickenbacker wrote a comic strip called Ace Drummond, that featured a daredevil esque pilot who fought various villains. This was later adapted into a movie serial by the same name (with Lon Chaney in a supporting role). There was also a run of stories about a hero named "G-8" who was a heroic aviator, there were the radio shows Captain Midnight (aka Jet Jackson: Flying Commando for TV), and The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen and the classic "AIRBOY". Whereas Spielberg/Lucas were going for the more swashbuckling intellectual hero (i.e. Doc Savage) with Indiana Jones, I think that the attempt here was to mimic the "daredevil pilot" troupe style story. In fact, this is a troupe George R.R. Martin pulled out in his first Wildcards book with the character of "Jetboy".

 

Look at this picture of the last re-release of this series:

wild-cards-i.jpg

 

And that story is a very small (but crucial) part of that series of books. But there is something about the pilot, in his leather bomber jacket, scarf in the wind, gun in hand, that still has a visual appeal.

 

That's the ascetic I believe the creators of this film were going for, much like The Shadow and The Phantom, they didn't succeed, at least the film LOOKED and FELT like those types of films, in fact I would argue Sky Captain is closer to that ascetic then those films did.

 

I would also argue that the cast serves it's purpose as a homage to "pulp novels". In the original pulps you got a really high quality glossy cover promising action, danger and sex. This, one could argue, swaps out the high quality glossy cover for a cast of big name actors but like a pulp novel that was written quickly for a dime a word or something, this is stretched out without much story.

 

Does that make it a good modern movie? No. Spielberg and Lucas were able to maintain the aura of the serial adventurer ala Doc Savage with a nice 80s touch (at least the first 3 movies. Crystal Skull falls apart for the same reason this does, it tries to hard to emulate a style of film that doesn't exist anymore) that Conran wasn't able to.

 

Finally, minor correction, technically this is "DIESELPUNK" not "STEAMPUNK"

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I wanted to highlight this article in the London Telegraph, published in 2015, catching up with Kevin Conran, brother of Sky Captain director Kerry Conran and one of the movie's lead designers and visual effects artists. Kerry himself still won't talk publicly about the experience:

 

https://www.telegrap...-what-happened/

 

It actually gives you some sympathy for these brothers, who sound like they were lifted way, way, way out of their league by an ambitious producer, and were actually being courted and saluted by the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood for what was honestly seen by people like George Lucas and J.J. Abrams as a pioneering new filmmaking method, until the movie became a financial catastrophe and everyone scattered.

 

Kevin Conran has a really intriguing quote about the film's reported $70 million budget. He says:

 

“I take great issue with that [budget figure] personally and I’d like someone to show me where all that money went,” says Kevin. “I don’t support those numbers and I never have. We walked into Jon Avnet’s office that first day and he said, ‘What do you want for the production?’ and we said $3 million. We could have done a version of this film for $3 million. It would have been black-and-white and sans name actors…

 

“But even still, this whole thing was going to be under $20 million. How it went from 20 to 70, you tell me.”

 

Add to this that the money for the film was raised outside the studio system, and here's my question - is there a chance that we're looking at a real-world scenario like Mel Brooks' The Producers, where someone took advantage of the fact that big movie stars were getting dazzled by this demo, and that the technology was so new that no one knew how much the movie would actually cost to make, and so raised way, way more money than they actually needed and just pocketed it and let these rookie filmmakers crash and burn knowing that no one would pay as much attention to the financial details of a flop? Can we get Blake Harris on the case of this?

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Correction: Sin City was not released in the same year as Sky Captain but the next year - and in fact, its director met with the Conrans in the interim and modeled his digital-backlot approach on theirs:

 

"We rather suffered from the first-guy-through-the-wall syndrome. We took the hits because we were new," Kevin says. "A lot of people don't want things to change and aren't interested in something new or different. Out of that whole moment in time, Kerry and I were invited to Skywalker Ranch by George Lucas where we spent a weekend just hanging out with him, Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, Brad Bird and Robert Zemeckis. It was all these luminaries and us.

 

"They were really interested in what we were doing and I personally felt validated at that point. Robert Rodriguez was really cool. He was getting ready to do Sin City, so he was of course very curious about how we were going about Sky Captain. If we had been released somewhat later, the reception might have been different. We're definitely a cult favourite among people who like this kind of movie."

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Paul kept asking about Sky Captain's profession and asked the nagging question "What is a sky captain?" I want to address this, but the answer involves one of the weirder aspects of this alternate 40s US ... weirder than the three generations of Hinderburgs and the British accents of New Yorkers.

 

First, I think it's obvious that "Sky Captain" is not a profession or a thing ... it's just Joe's superhero name. The public calls him "Sky Captain" just like it calls Tony Stark "Iron Man."

 

But the thing is, "Sky Captain" is not a superhero ... he's a mercenary. The news broadcast clearly states that the city is waiting on Sky Captain "and his army-for-hire." Army-for-hire means mercenaries. Sky Captain is in it for the money, and some way some how probably expects to be paid for all the hero work he's doing. That's how he funds his tricked out dogfighter and his cool base with a huge hanger and cannons and a crackerjack weapons development/radio triangulation/gum chewing wing for his best friend/sidekick/submissive.

 

And in this alternate reality, there appears to be NO standing military of any kind. When the robots attack, we see a few cops firing tommy guns at them but otherwise, no one is doing anything to combat them except for Sky Captain. Again, the radio news guy immediately puts all the city's hopes squarely on Sky Captain, which implies that that is standard procedure because they have no army. The modern day equivalent of this would be if we had to call in Blackwater in emergency situations. And we see Sky Captain breaking some pretty severe rules of engagement like firing weapons and dropping bombs in highly populated areas and flying 10 feet above paved city roads.

 

He's a cavalier merc with a million dollar operation and no overseeing regulatory body that the whole country relies upon for its security. How and why, in a world where Germany is wrangling secret cabals of scientists and Britain has a fucking armada of flying aircraft carriers, has this been allowed to happen?

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