There are a lot of movies that come and go. Some are block-buster smashes, some are forgotten. “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” was in the theaters 8 years ago, but it’s barely remembered.
Set in a 1939 alternate universe, “Sky Captain” is a mixture of Buck Rogers, Captain America, and the Rocketeer. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are the heroes who can’t seem to quite sort out their feelings. Nice surprises in the casting include Michael Gambon, Angelina Jolie, and even an archival footage appearance by the great Laurence Olivier. It feels like a classic Warner Brothers war film in dialogue and art direction, but never quite gets the formula right. There are too many clichés and close calls to really be enjoyable.
The muted color saturation is beautiful and seems to fit the portrayed time period well. The over abundance of computer generated graphics give the film a comic book feel that reminds me in a way of “Sin City” (2005). They’re not entirely off-putting, you will just be aware the entire time that this is completely a fantasy world. There’s enough about this film that should ensure its syndication on cable TV, and I would very happily turn it on as small diversion to my everyday activities.
The translation of a novel to film is a very tenuous thing. When that story is well-loved, it’s even more so. The public have an indisputable ruler by which to measure the movie, and will do so mercilessly. For those books that have reached the age and popularity level of “classic” many different adaptations may exist. When it comes to Herman Melville’s novel, 1956’s “Moby Dick” may not be the most critically acclaimed, but for me it stands as the benchmark.
John Huston’s Technicolor masterpiece captures the language and heart of the novel (adapted for the screen by Ray Bradbury) and injects it with the tension that only careful editing can convey. Images documenting a whaling hunt cut with motion shots from the waves add realism.
What really brings life to the story is the performances of the actors. The entire cast brings believable emotion and struggle, but Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab stands above the rest. His performance is larger than life, and he fills the screen with his passion and obsession.
For me, one of the best things about the artistry of the film is the pastel color palate. Technicolor is typically characterized by its bright, saturated hues, resulting from not only the production design but also from the dye-transfer process. For “Moby Dick” this technical process was physically altered, with the color layers being added in a different order to achieve the muted, unsaturated look.
Although it’s not the most literary accurate version of the novel, I feel its handling makes it one of the most enjoyable.
I saw “The Artist” (2011) in early December, and as I didn’t start this blog until January, I wasn’t planning on writing about it until I saw it again. You see, I believe that its better to write a review after a fresh viewing rather than as a memory of what you once saw, because memories can be selective. After last night’s Academy Awards ended with “The Artist” picking up 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, I feel that I can relay some of my thoughts on the film.
“The Artist” is notable for a number of reasons: its a black and white silent film staring foreign actors and shown in a 1:37 aspect ratio. All of these things go against what Hollywood has been purporting for decades: that the public will only see a film that is in color, stereo, wide-screen, and staring a big named American actor. There’s a long history as to how and why these thoughts came to dominate, but I’ll just summarize it as being that people only want what is new and in drawing people away from their televisions and into the cinemas they need to be bombarded by as much technological advancement as we can stuff into it. The latest technological invasion in the movies is a re-hash of that 60s miracle – 3D.
“The Artist” defied the current Hollywood standard, proving that a good movie is not dependent on the latest and greatest. It just needs to have a good story that is told well. My greatest hope is that people who see this film with an open mind will become interested in seeing other silent films. There are so many great movies from the early days of cinema that should be watched and enjoyed.
There are many activities that film archivists do that border on living history. With digital productions and non-linear editing on computer systems, the institution of the “splice” is fading fast. A splice is made when two pieces of motion picture film are joined together be either a special tape or glue to create one continuous piece.
Above is an example of a glue splice in a piece of motion picture film. On the top left, the film is places in register, so that the join will appear between frames, instead of in the center of an image. To the right of that the film is prepared by scraping a millimeter of material away and creating a keyed surface. Bottom left shows me applying a small amount of film glue to the keyed surface before the two layers are pressed together. Finally, you see the completed splice.