SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW Computer-generated robots must die!

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
dir. Conran
Opens Fri Sept 17
Various Theaters

In the first half of last century, the world was in love with "possibility." All eyes focused on a bright, shining future of technology--one that could end wars and make life easier for everyone who embraced the dream and hope of science. There was an explosion of inventiveness, reflected and elaborated upon in the sci-fi fantasy of pulp fiction, cartoons, and especially film. Hollywood was in the dream-making business, churning out futuristic action adventure serials such as Flash Gordon, and feature length films like King Kong.

Now, in the early stages of a new century, "possibility" is almost frowned upon; NASA is considered a money-losing joke, and we have a president dead set against exploring the life-saving possibilities of stem cell research. And while the imagination of Hollywood is still largely limited to putting Adam Sandler in increasingly ridiculous situations, they at least had enough sense to allow one dreamer to make one of the best movies of the year: Kerry Conran's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Sky Captain takes the joyous, innovative spirit of the first half of the 1900s and combines it with a striking new way of making film. Using computers and blue-screen technology (where picturesque backgrounds are digitally pasted behind human actors), Conran has produced a seamless, lushly photographed film where nothing is real except a handful of props and the actors.

Taking its visual and scripting cues from the sci-fi adventure films of the 1920s-40s, Sky Captain is a slam-bang action flick that's more true to its origins than even the Indiana Jones series. The year is 1939, and Jude Law is Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan--an aerial ace called into action when gigantic, clanking robots invade downtown New York. He soon learns the robots are part of a larger plan involving the disappearance of world famous scientists--a case that's being investigated by Joe's former love, plucky reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow). After Sky Captain's base is destroyed, and his best pal Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) is kidnapped, Joe and Polly take off on a globe-trotting mission to foil the plan of an evil megalomaniac known only as "Totenkopf."

Now at first glance--with its dependence on cutting edge technology and 100-foot tall clanking robots--one might mistake this for a "nerd film." Thankfully, there's so much more to Sky Captain. While one could forgo the plot and get lost in the beautifully constructed backdrops which pay tribute to the covers of classic sci-fi fantasy novels and the expressionistic artistry of Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons, director Conran wisely adds variation by taking the action out of NYC, placing his actors into snowy mountains, steamy jungles, and exciting battle sequences underneath the sea. Yet at its core, Sky Captain is a story of innocence and connection, as Joe and Polly reignite the flame of their former love--okay, while fighting 100-foot robots.

The flaws are few and far between: I would've liked more background on Sky Captain's character, and a few of the effects are overwhelming. But the acting is nevertheless on the money, with both Law and Paltrow nailing the unflappable, snappy style of actors from that era of film. And though Angelina Jolie's role (as Captain "Franky" Cook) is relatively short, she generates the most heat as one of Joe's former flings--and a tough-as-nails battalion leader, she also gets to bark the most satisfyingly squirmy line in the movie: "Alert the amphibious squadron!"

But try to forget the technological artistry and the recurring question of "How the HELL did they do that?" that will undoubtedly bounce around in your head. The best way to view Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is to simply lean back and enjoy one of the most entertaining films of the year--and be thankful that the art of "possibility" is alive and well.