Sunday, August 28, 2005

At the movies

Well, on the new futon anyway. I haven't indulged in a movie review since switching my journal from Multiply, but since the pain meds have washed me up on the shores of 6:00 am, here are a few thoughts on the DVD I rented last night:

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was released last year, at great expense and to a lukewarm reception. It is a sci-fi adventure set in the interwar years, the 1920s and 30s, and calls heavily on all of the imagery of that era. New York, zeppelins, ray guns and flying helmets; all of the elements of the old pulp science fiction and flying magazines that we are all really too young to remember.

I read the reviews of the movie at the time it came out, and decided to give it a miss. Reluctantly, because I was intrigued by the visuals. Though too young, I have read those pulp magazines, and of course I have sat through a lot of dreadful movies just for the airplanes, my particular addiction. Not just that, but I have always had an affinity for the very imagery this film wallows in - the Streamlined Moderne, collectively. The twenties and thirties saw a revolution in industrial design; I did a paper on the subject in college, which I'll not reproduce here. But the images are still famous today: the Chrysler building, the Trojan-helmet trains of the New York Central - the flowing aerodynamic look incorrectly referred to as "Art Deco". This film is the result of the art directors being as infatuated with that movement as I was, but with a far larger budget!

It's also darn near unwatchable, as a movie; dull and devoid of adventure. Most of that huge budget was spent in making the film in the George Lucas mode - where the actors perform in front of a blue screen, and literally everything is painted in behind them with computer-generated imagery, "CGI". I'm sure that this contributed to the disinterested performances by the stars - Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie - all capable actors. It didn't help that their lines were dreadfully written, or that the plot was convoluted and predictable. No, this was a movie created by and for the art directors; a purely visual exercise with as much audience appeal as - well, my college term paper.

If you know who Raymond Loewy, Norman Bel Geddes and R. Buckminster Fuller are; if you've sought out and read old pulp comics like "Smilin' Jack" and "Air Wonder Stories"; or if you're actually old enough to remember this era, you might find it interesting to look at; "Sky Captain" is a rich catalog of imagery. But don't expect to find any of the adventure or wonder that these images accompanied, back in their day.