Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A high level of stylization made the picture Captain tough to evaluate objectively, but within its parameters, the movie looked solid.
Sharpness was one of those elements that was difficult to judge. The movie used a glowing look that caused a slightly soft feel, but I didn’t interpret that as a flaw. The film was supposed to present this mildly less defined appearance, and the DVD replicated it well. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and as far as I could tell, the image lacked edge enhancement. The film’s natural glow made it tough to tell, but I discerned no external haloes. Print flaws also remained absent.
Technically, we’d have to call Captain a color film. However, it was awfully monochrome. The majority of the flick presented images that were essentially black and white, blue or sepia tone. Even when other hues popped up, they were extremely subdued and desaturated. Dark elements heavily dominated the flick, and the colors looked fine within those parameters. Blacks seemed tight and dense, while the many low-light shots demonstrated good clarity and distinctiveness. I found no reasons for complaint, as the DVD gave us visuals that appeared true to the source.
Even better was the vivid Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sky Captain. An active and involving affair, the soundfield provided a great sense of environment. Quieter scenes kept us in the game with nice atmospheric elements, and the action sequences brought the mix to life in a wonderful manner. This started with the initial robot attack, a scene that will likely become a demo for many home theaters. Similar sequences worked equally well, and the movie consistently used all five channels to strong effect. The surrounds played an aggressive role as they fleshed out the audio.
Sound quality lived up to the splendors of the soundfield. Speech was consistently natural and crisp, with no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant. The score was always rich and showed good definition. Effects blasted home the action nicely. They were accurate and dynamic and kicked into high gear when appropriate. I felt very impressed with the track’s bass response, as low-end was tight and firm. No boominess interfered with the punch in the louder scenes. All in all, this soundtrack dazzled.
Despite the movie’s lackluster box office reception, Sky Captain gets a good roster of extras. We find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from producer Jon Avnet. He offers a good running, screen-specific chat. Avnet gets into many of the challenges - both low and high tech - encountered during the production. We find out how he came onto the project, got financing and developed it, and cast it. Avnet also discusses the ways he had to nurture the introverted director and helped pull him out of his shell. There’s a lot about the technical issues and various innovations. Avnet presents a good look at all aspects of the production and makes this an interesting and informative piece.
By the way, Avnet’s piece accentuates a minor trend in commentaries. He mocks critics who disparaged Jolie’s British accent, and he has a point; she pulls off the inflections well, so I don’t know why folks would state otherwise. It’s just weird that I’ve recently heard commentators go after critics in their tracks. This has happened in the past, but it seems to have become more common lately.
For the second commentary, we hear from writer/director Kerry Conran, production designer Kevin Conran, animation director/digital effects supervisor Steve Yamamoto, and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings. All four sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. I’ve heard worse commentaries, but this one’s decidedly mediocre. Most of the remarks revolve around reminding us about the absence of sets and props. We get many notes about the sparseness of the shooting environments. The participants also often just tell us who performed various tasks.
A few story notes appear, and a little wry humor enlivens the proceedings on occasion. We also get a few insights into references to other works. Not many long gaps mar the piece, but a fair number of examples of dead air occur. The track moves at a decent pace, but it just doesn’t bring a lot to the table. I can’t say I learned much from this extremely low-key commentary.
After this comes a two-part documentary called Brave New World. Taken together, the piece fills 51 minutes and 44 seconds as it offers the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Kerry Conran, Kevin Conran, Avnet, Hollings, Yamamoto, producer Marsha Oglesby, visual effects producer Daniel Rucinski, special photographic process Stephen Lawes, animation supervisor Robert Dressel, CG lighting director Michael Sean Foley, production supervisor Matthew Feitshans, modeling supervisor Zack Petroc, director of systems engineering Brian Chacon, editor Sabrina Plisco, and actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Angelina Jolie. We learn of the roots of the film and its early guises, the concepts behind the processes used to make it, initial designs and other work for the original six-minute version, pitching the film, casting, pre-production and various planning processes, the visual design, technical challenges and shooting without sets, post-production and visual effects, the use of color, technological challenges and fears related to on-time completion.
At times, “World” comes across as self-congratulatory, as we get more than a few comments about the remarkable nature of the film. However, it offers plenty of good notes about the production. Usually audio commentaries are the most effective methods to convey lots of information, but due to the unusual nature of Captain, a documentary works best. It’s great to get a look at the raw footage and see what went into making this flick. The program packs in lots of solid information and moves at a reasonable pace to create a useful documentary.
Next we find a featurette entitled The Art of World of Tomorrow. In this eight-minute and 20-second program, we get notes from Kevin Conran. He discusses the movie’s look and art design. He covers the general visual presentation as well as the specifics of some sets, clothes and prominent pieces. We see a lot of planning sketches and learn many good details about the film’s visual influences and decisions. It’s short but tight and satisfying.
An interesting element, we get the Original Six-Minute Short. This was used essentially to pitch the viability of all-CG settings and helped get financing for the flick. We see parts of this in the documentary, but here we watch it in its entirety. Presented non-anamorphic 1.78:1, the quality’s a little fuzzy, but it’s very cool to see this seminal work in full.
Two Deleted Scenes fill five minutes and eight seconds. We get “Totenkopf’s Torture Room” and “The Conveyor Belt”. The first is a fairly redundant look at Totenkopf’s victims, but “Belt” offers a more interesting piece with a little more action and insight into Totenkopf’s lair. It’s unfinished and crude but interesting to see.
More unused material appears via a Gag Reel. The two-minute and 32-second clip shows a lot of the usual goofs and giggles, but we get some cool shots due to the nature of the film. I like being able to see more of the sparsely-populated sets and unusual techniques, and we also watch some wacky CG shots. I’m not a fan of gag reels, but this one’s worth a look.
No trailer for Captain appears, but the disc opens with some previews. This includes ads for Alfie, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Without a Paddle, and The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. These also can be accessed via the Previews option in the “Special Features” menu. One other note: most of the extras provide both English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow provides a flick with great looks but little substance. Despite a strong cast, it suffers from bland performances, and its dull plot doesn’t help. The visuals are terrific, and the action sequences excite enough to make the movie fun at times, but it lacks consistency. As for the DVD, it presents excellent visuals and audio as well as a generally strong package of extras. Because the movie itself is so erratic, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Sky Captain, but there’s enough unusual material on display here to make it worth at least a rental.