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"This is Sky Captain. I'm on my way."
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a 2004 movie homage to the Two-Fisted Tales of the 1930's. The film follows the adventures of Ace Pilot 'Joe' Sullivan, known as Sky Captain (Jude Law) and newspaper reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow).
They begin investigating the affairs of the mysterious German scientist, Dr Totenkopf, after his machines attack New York City. Further implicating Totenkopf is a string of kidnapped scientists all leading back to his involvment.
The plot shamelessly uses the outrageous gadgets and cliches of the Pulp Magazine and Comic Book genres, plus numerous shout outs to other media of the period. Filmed with live actors against computer-generated surroundings, the movie did not make enough money to offset its production costs, so a sequel is unlikely.
The movie has the following Awesome but Impractical machines:
- Airborne Aircraft Carrier: Franky's heliocarrier, which serves as mobile recon outpost for the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy has a lot more of them, as seen in the end of the movie.
- Attack Drone: Radio-controlled ornithopters armed with multiple autocannons.
- Drill Tank: The giant drill machine in Totenkopf's uranium mine.
- Flying Car: The hoversleds in Totenkopf's Elaborate Underground Base.
- Humongous Tin Can Mecha: Giant bipedal robots armed with Frickin' Laser Beams stomp through the streets of New York. They can fly as well.
- Military Mashup Machine: Sky Captain's Curtiss P-40 can change into a submersible. It also has the ability to project limpet mines and grapnel-wires.
- Schizo-Tech: A radio-imager drone sends back underwater pictures to Franky's heliocarrier. Also, zeppelins next to mecha, and UCAVs.
- Shiny-Looking Spaceships: Totenkopf's brobdingnagian Retro Rocket.
- Spider Tank: The crab robots guarding the underwater approaches to Totenkopf's island.
- The Swarm: The one-eyed Squid Robots that search the Flying Legion airbase, the radio-controlled UCAVs that engage Sky Captain shortly thereafter, and the horde of flying Killer Robots in the Elaborate Underground Base.
- Transforming Mecha: Franky's Manta Squadron, Cool Planes that can transform in mid-dive into submersibles armed with cluster-torpedoes. They also have an Ejection Seat with built-in Jet Pack, leading to a Crowning Moment Of Awesome for Angelina Jolie.
- Zeppelins from Another World: The Hindenburg III docks at the Empire State Building in the opening scene, though in reality the docking spire was inoperable from the beginning due to strong updrafts and the lack of a mooring point for the other end of an airship.
Other tropes include:
- Action Dress Rip: Polly tears her skirt to run better during the NYC robot attack. But leaves on the heels....
- Action Girl: Commander Francesca "Franky" Cook of the Royal Navy, who sports an Eyepatch of Power. There's also The Mysterious Woman, a silent but deadly woman who controls Totenkopf's machines and turns out to be a Robot Girl.
- Aerial Canyon Chase: The title character flies his fighter plane along the streets of New York just above ground level while trying to escape Dr. Totenkopf's robot ornithopters.
- Alternate History: Set in a 1939 (with The Wizard of Oz showing in theaters) where World War Two either happened earlier than our world's, is still brewing, or not at all, though apparently the Japanese invasion of Manchuria still happened.
- There is also a Hindenburg III in the opening scene (which implies either that the first Hindenburg did not explode, or else its explosion was not an impediment to further airship construction).
- A First World War is mentioned, so WWII definitely has happened. Or they figured audiences wouldn't understand a reference to "The World War" or "The Great War", which was how WW 1 was referred to in those days.
- Anachronism Stew
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Spoofed. Joe Sullivan believes Polly Perkins deliberately sabotaged his plane in China while Going for the Big Scoop. When they're trapped in a cave packed with dynamite that's about to explode, Joe looks her in the eyes and asks...if she really did cut his fuel line. Polly is understandably annoyed that they're going to spend their last moments on Earth discussing this point. And on Totenkopf's island, she admits she did. A pissed off Joe then admits that he did sleep with Franky.
- Apologetic Attacker - Played With: Totenkopf's note at his deathchair reads "Forgive me", and there's indications he tried to shut down his robot servant that was hunting scientists.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Polly and Joe bicker throughout the movie.
Joe: Could we just for once die without all this bickering?
- Bedmate Reveal: After an Outrun the Fireball moment, Polly wakes up naked in a bed next to an equally naked Joe. An embarrassed Polly tells him to turn around, which a grinning Joe does only to find he's also in bed with their guide, Kaji, who is also naked.
- Bilingual Dialogue: Polly can understand both written and spoken German.
- Billing Displacement: A sterling example. Law and Paltrow are billed diagonally. On the same card, Jolie gets the "and" honor by being billed as "and Angelina Jolie". They thus manage a triple simultaneous diagonal bill where everyone gets a position of honor.
- Bring It: Dr. Totenkopf's female The Dragon makes a gesture to Sky Captain before fighting him outside the rocket ship.
- Brits With Battleships: Flying battleships.
- Camera Obscurer: Polly Perkins spends much of the movie with only one frame left on her only roll of film, and wants to save it for a truly awesome photo. In the film's denouement, she decides to take a photo of Joe Sullivan, only for Joe to look at her and say "Lenscap."
- Catch Phrase: Joe (Sky Captain) says "Good boy, Dex" whenever his Sidekick Dex does something good.
- Chair Reveal: Dr. Totenkopf. Only it turns out he's been Dead All Along.
- Chekhov's Gun: The two metal tubes that Polly Perkins received from Dr. Jennings. Also, Dex's gun.
- Chroma Key: The actors used only the most basic sets and props, with CGI backgrounds used in every shot.
- Cut and Paste Environments - Toward the beginning of the movie, just after the robots attack Manhattan, Sky Captain lands at his base and drives his plane into a huge hangar. At the top of the doors of the hangar are these huge windows of 8x10 panes. In every window, some of the panes are broken. In every window, it's EXACTLY THE SAME PANES that are broken.
- Cutting the Gordian Knot - Polly and the door to Dr. Jenning's lab.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Filmed in colour and desaturated, then resaturated again to make it more like a painting than a photorealistic movie.
- Diesel Punk: With a healthy helping of Tesla Punk to boot.
- Disintegrator Ray: Gadgeteer Genius Dex is shown testing a Buck Rogers raygun that can burn a hole through solid metal with luminous
Lifesaversrings of energy.
- Dogfighting Furballs: Multiple furballs, including air and submarine battles.
- Doing It for the Art: The film's creator spent years developing software to achieve a film with this specific look, and then pitched a film around it.
- The Dragon: Dr. Totenkopf's Action Girl agent. A rather extreme case of Dragon Their Feet.
- The End of the World as We Know It / Utopia Justifies the Means: The planet-colonizing rocketship seems benign, until it's revealed that its afterburners will ignite the Earth's atmosphere.
- Eureka Moment: "Rana is a star!"
- Fake Brit/Fake American: Englishman Jude Law plays the American hero, while American Angelina Jolie plays "Franky". Jolie's accent was mocked by some critics, though she's merely riffing on the
luscious lower lipstiff-upper-lip jargon of British war propaganda.
- Fake Shemp: Laurence Olivier, via the magic of stock footage and CGI, comes back to life as Dr. Totenkopf.
- The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
- George Lucas Throwback: to 30's sci-fi and 40's-50's war fiction.
- Giant Flyer: The protagonists encounter giant prehistoric birds on Totenkopf's island.
- A God Am I: Totenkopf, in the video that plays while his rocket is rising through the atmosphere. It plays a twisted version of the first few verses of Genesis, replacing him as God and him seeing that "Man was evil."
- Gratuitous German: The German in this movie is often mangled.
- A particularly noticeable example is a button labeled with "Dringlichkeitsfreigabe", which then gets translated as "Emergency Release", while it actually means "Urgency Release". It should be "Notfallfreigabe/-abkopplung/-entriegelung/-freisetzung".
- The German newspaper headline about the robot invasion translates to "Very Big Metallc [sic!] Machines Steal Steal Reserves"
- The Grotesque: The sole survivor of Dr. Totenkopf's uranium mining and experiments.
- Gunship Rescue. An entire fleet of heliocarriers turns up to rescue the protagonists at the end, though they don't really need saving by that stage. And Dex has a Big Damn Heroes moment when he arrives in a hoversled just in time to save Joe and Polly from the swarm of flying killer robots.
- Herr Doctor: All the scientists are German and Austrian.
- Homages: The attack by giant bipedal robots is copied from the 1941 Superman cartoon "The Mechanical Monsters". Their laser sound-effects are the same as the Martian Disintegrator Ray in the 1953 The War of the Worlds film; similarly Polly's phoned-in report on the attack uses lines lifted from the famous Orson Welles radio broadcast. On seeing one of the robots, Dex mutters "Shazam!" The silhouette of Godzilla can be seen in a newspaper from Japan. During an underwater sequence we see both the wreck of the Titanic and the ship from King Kong, complete with ape-holding cage. King Kong himself can be seen at the top of the Empire State Building during one shot with the robots in the streets. The flying robots on Totenkopf's island have the same chest controls as Commando Cody's Jet Pack. Et cetera.
- Hostage for Macguffin: When Dr. Totenkopf's thugs capture Polly Perkins in the uranium mine.
- Hot Scoop: Polly.
- Hologram Projection Imperfection: As the protagonists approach Dr. Totenkopf's office a Tesla-type generator creates a Huge Holographic Head of Totenkopf that explains his motives and warns them to get out or die. Both the image and voice are distorted when powering up, highlighting the more primitive 1930's zeerust technology of the film. The imperfections also hint this is a case of The Tape Knew You Would Say That.
- Info Dump: Dex and the scientists explain Totenkopf's entire plan (as well as mentioning an offscreen escape where several of them got killed) in a single moment of exposition. Although not unusual in the Comic Books on which the movie is based, the scene appears clumsy on screen.
- It Is Beyond Saving: Totenkopf's motive in creating his World of Tomorrow (and destroying the old one in the process).
- It's the Only Way: Spoofed.
Sky Captain: "Is it safe?"
- Justified Title: The Character Name and the Noun Phrase title is obviously a reference to the retro-futuristic nature of the movie, but "Sky Captain" is the nickname of the main character, and the villain calls his scheme to seed life on another planet the "World of Tomorrow".
- Let's Split Up, Gang!: Sky Captain, while in Dr. Totenkopf's abandoned uranium mine.
- Mad Scientist Laboratory: The laboratory of Dr. Walter Jennings (with mutated fetus and tiny elephant), and the room in Shangri-La (shown in a deleted scene) where Totenkopf conducted experiments on radiation victims from his uranium mine.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Kidnapping scientists -> Plot to build a spaceship that will destroy the Earth's atmosphere.
- Misguided Missile: Twice, both by Frankie and Sky Captain.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Dr. Totenkopf (Death Head in German) Subverted, he's Dead All Along and it is implied that he was rather a Well-Intentioned Extremist. It's more commonly used by Germans as name for the bare skull. Hence the skull motif.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Angelina Jolie is in the movie for all of 15 minutes, but you'd think she was a main character.
- No OSHA Compliance: The walkways inside the rocket ship. They're barely wide enough to walk on, and have no railings.
- Noodle Incident: Polly is visibly annoyed when fellow fliers (and implied ex-lovers) Franky and Joe share an incomprehensible nostalgia moment.
Joe and Franky: PROTECT THE RABBITS!!! PROTECT THE RABBITS!!!
- One Bullet Left: Polly is down to one shot left in her camera, so she's forced to forgo the chance to photograph the lost kingdom of Shangri-La, a top-secret flying aircraft carrier, a giant prehistoric bird, and every creature on Earth being loaded two-by-two into a giant rocketship. In the end Polly passes up the Scoop of the Century for a photograph of Joe... who promptly informs her she left the lens cap on.
- Percussive Prevention: Joe knocks out Polly to stop her accompanying him on a one-way trip to destroy Totenkopf's rocketship. It doesn't work.
- Plummet Perspective: Happens on at least three occasions.
- Practical Voice Over: A radio announcer (along with a Spinning Paper montage) is used to show that the robot attack on New York is part of a worldwide phenomenon.
- Prophetic Names: Totenkopf, literally "dead man's head" (e.g. skull) in German. Not only alluding to the skull symbol on his creations, but guess what you find him as. Well, still sorta... intact.
- Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: One of Dr. Totenkopf's Mooks tries this on Joe in the Tibetan uranium mine.
- Redshirt Army: The Flying Legion gets wiped out by an air raid, but Joe is only concerned about his missing buddy Dex. Additionally, Franky's troops.
- Reluctant Mad Scientist: The former members of Unit 11.
- Running Gag: Polly and Joe's discussions about whether she cut his fuel line. As it turns out, she did cut it.
- Shamgri La: Shangri-La itself, whose people were forced to work in Totenkopf's uranium mine.
- Shoot Out the Lock: The title character throws an object and hits the control box for a door, causing the door to close.
- Shoulder Cannon: The missile launcher of the Giant Robot guarding the underwater entrance to Dr. Totenkopf's island.
- Shout-Out: By the dozen. Everything from The Land That Time Forgot, The Neverending Story, Apple's 1984 commercial, Star Wars Episode I and the anime film Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
- Some people view the movie as a Spiritual Licensee of Crimson Skies.
- Godzilla appears on one of the newspaper headlines in a "blink and you'll miss it" cameo
- "They've reached Sixth Avenue. They've reached Fifth Avenue. They're a hundred yards away. Oh, my God."
- Sidekick: Dex, to Joe (Sky Captain). But there's a lot more to Dex then this, he may look like a skinny little nerd but he's taken a level in badass and has matters well in hand when Joe finally arrives to 'rescue' him. To his credit Joe doesn't seem very surprised and just asks for a heads up on the plan.
- Sitting Duck: The Flying Legion is caught on the ground by an air raid launched by what can only be described as pulp sci-fi UCA Vs.
- Stripped to the Bone: One of the escaping scientists on Totenkopf's island gets skeletonised by a bolt of electricity from a Tesla coil.
- Stylistic Suck: a couple of effects were CGI'ed to resemble early stop-motion effects from serials. Note: This does not apply to the film's overall sepia-tone look, which is quite elaborate.
- Surprise Vehicle - Dex, in one of Totenkopf's hoversleds.
- That Was the Last Entry: When the group finally gets to Totenkopf's office, they find his papers and discover that "the last entry in his journal was made on October 11, 1918", 20 years before the setting of the film. Shortly thereafter, they find his mummified body.
- There Was a Door: Inverted.
- Too Awesome to Use: See One Bullet Left.
- Traitor Shot: Two of the guides look at each other while standing under Joe's plane as sinister music plays.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: A survivor of Totenkopf's experiments asks for one last favor. To be killed. We never find out if Joe obliges, although his rather sad look after they've left Shangri-La implies that he did it.
- Why Won't You Die?: Invoked word-for-word when The Dragon, beaten, revealed as a Robot Girl, and left for dead at the villain's island, sneaks into the rocketship to attack Joe one last time.
- Zeerust: Basically the whole point of the film. Influences include the futuristic designs of Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Lloyd and Hugh Ferriss.
- Except the point of view during the shot is facing Polly and the front of her camera, and the audience can clearly see the lens cap is not on. Though you could Hand Wave this as Joe messing with her again.