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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/23/2004 Archived Entry: "Movie review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Written and Directed by Kerry Conran
Actors and blue screen, mostly blue screen.

Review by Ginger Mayerson

Grrrrrrr. What are they teaching these boys in film school?

So, speaking of nostalgia for things that never were: In the mythical old days of early Hollywood, set in the same mythical time frame as "Sky Captain etc.", a guy like Kerry Conran would have spent a decade assistant directing for a master director before he got a film. And, because in a decade everyone knows if you have "it" or not, he would never have gotten a film. Or he would have ended up directing B- movies.

And by "it" I mean a soul. This film has no soul, it doesn't even have much personality. It has "style" and style will not get you through an hour and forty-seven minutes. It also has flaws that have been enumerated elsewhere, but here's the one that annoyed me most: you would think they could have spent a little money on a dialect coach for poor Angela Jolie. When I saw the trailer, I thought she sounded German.

And speaking of Germans: I must say that Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are fine Aryan specimens indeed. Conran has envisioned a streamlined vision of the future set in the not so distant past with no black or brown people in it. A culture that glorifies war, technology, the sleek, art modern design, and those sleek deco blondes in tight skirts and one-eyed dominatrix brunettes of indeterminate accents in tighter uniforms that go with it. This really gave me the creeps about half way through the film and, as you can see, I still haven't quite shaken it.

If Nazi Germany had won the culture war, this is what the world would be like. In this parallel development, only a super villain like Totenkoff could be more monstrous than the ideas of National Socialism triumphant. Where are your black and brown people in America of the 1930s, Mr. Conran? I'd sure like to know.

But Conran, as a product of CalArts, probably doesn't see it that way. He just sees the cool things he can do with the technology and never mind the human element. (This is why real war is so horrible nowadays, but I digress.) The films Conran seems to be paying homage to were made on very low budgets; it was up to the actors to "put them across." The reverse is true in this film; the actors could have been CGI and who would have really cared? Conran is longing for an era he doesn't understand.

So, yeah, it's only a film. And as a film, it's a boring failure and so, in the end, we really do know what Mr. Conran is made of: style, but no content. Will he get another chance to fail? Maybe; this film is raking in the bucks, and to fail in Hollywood these days, you only have to lose enough money.

Edit 092404 - after a good night's sleep: Does it bother anyone else that this kind of mildly entertaining, mostly hypnotic, weirdly revisionist vision of Nazi era design and culture is coming out just as the last of the Holocaust survivors are dying? If this film heralds a trend, it's a very bad trend.

Edit 101104 - Ah ha! I knew there was something else bothering me. Sky Captain and his women all mention Nanjing but never the Rape of Nanjing (300K+ civilians murdered), which would have been in the same "theoretical" time frame. And here's the story that jogged my memory:

"TOKYO - A popular Japanese cartoonist has come under fire for depicting the Japanese imperial army carrying out brutal acts in the 1937 Nanjing massacre, a report has said.

"The publisher of the Weekly Young Jump comics magazine had received strong protests for printing the 'inappropriate' strip by 57-year-old cartoonist Hiroshi Motomiya last month, the conservative Sankei Shimbun daily said on Saturday.

"The cartoon is titled Kuni-ga Moeru, which means 'the country burns', and tells the story of a young bureaucrat in the years when Japan was heading into World War II before rising from the ashes after its defeat.

"An excerpt from the strip depicts Japanese soldiers slashing Chinese captives lined up for execution, with comrades cheering the gruesome scene.

"The Sankei did not say who had made the protests, but the Kyodo news agency reported that those responsible included a group of 37 members of local assemblies."
Cartoon strip on Nanjing massacre draws flak, APF, October 10 or 11, 2004, as seen in The Straights Times, as seen in Thought Balloons

Japanese history textbook makers have been trying to sanitize their texts on the Rape of Nanjing (or Nanking) for years. Do they really need Kerry Conran's help on this? I mean, most of that generation in Asia has died off, so only the horror of the Rape of Nanjing and the Japanese occupation of China (like Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Dresden and London and Rotterdam and Guernica and too many to list here) and the existence of written survivor accounts and other documentation are all that keeps history as, um, honest as history can be honest. Conran's film does a terrible disservice to the victims of the WWII era by taking the horror out of it.

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