This time, we look at a modern cult classic with our Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow film review and along the way ask, why is Angelina Jolie so prominent in the film’s marketing? How influential was the “digital backlot?” And, was resurrecting Laurence Olivier a smart move? Let’s dive in…
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow Cast and Crew
Directed by Kerry Conran: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was Conran’s directorial debut and remains his only credit as a director. Conran has remained relatively quiet since Sky Captain’s release having only directed a commercial for Coca-Cola and a short film that premiered in 2012.
Jude Law as Sky Captain/Joseph Sullivan: By 2004, Law had become an international movie star and in that year alone, he had starred in I Heart Huckabees, Alfie, Closer, The Aviator and A Series of Unfortunate Events. His casting as the titular 'Sky Captain' was seen by many as his foray into adventure films.
Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly Perkins: At the time, her career had begun to wane following her Oscar win for Shakespeare in Love. Following that performance, she starred in Bounce, Shallow Hal and View From the Top. Her casting was announced at San Diego Comic Con in order to drum up interest for the film.
Giovanni Ribisi as Dex: Ribisi has a knack for finding quirky yet entertaining films and he actually signed on for this film without reading a script. He was shown a teaser trailer created by Conran and one of his producers in order to nail Ribisi.
Angelina Jolie as Frank Cook: Due to her commitments filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life, she could only be on set for three days. She helped to add credibility to the film following the casting of Law and Paltrow.
Also starring: Michael Gambon as Editor Paley and Bai Ling as The Mysterious Woman
The Rise of the Digital Backlot
If you’ve watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, you probably noticed the film has an odd color palate and design. This is due to Conran utilizing what became known as a “digital backlot.” Conran is a fan of cinema of the 1930’s and 40’s as well as animation techniques. Following his apprenticeship in a Disney animator program, he thought many of the techniques he learned could be applied to a live-action film, but upon realizing that many studios would not be willing to take a chance on a first-time director with a brand new concept of filming, he decided to make the film himself.
He spent many years in the 90’s working on a Macintosh computer and even produced a crude teaser trailer with homemade bluescreens. This trailer was then shown to a friend of Conran who in turn showed it to an additional friend and agreed to produce the film. This producer and Conran would spend the next ten years working together in an attempt to get their film onto the big screen. Prior to shooting with a full cast, Conran shot the film himself and then created moving storyboards in order for his actors to understand how scenes would unfold and how to move during these scenes.
In an effort to save costs, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was shot in a total of 26 days utilizing entirely blue or green screens and incredibly minimal set design. The short production time allowed for the crew to work on the complex visual effects which mostly included overlaying the live action footage with the previously rendered animation from Conran’s prior shoot without his principal actors. Conran noted he would end up working 18 – 20 hour days in order to help create the 2,000+ visual effects shots seen in the film.
In addition to this new style of filming, Conran also wanted to digitally resurrect a deceased actor for the role of Dr. Totenkopf, Laurence Olivier. This was a challenge due to the fact that Olivier had been dead for 13 years at the time of filming and the fact that this had never been attempted before in a major motion picture. Conran and his team mostly used footage and audio from Oliv...