When I was a wee tad, apparently one of my favorite TV programs was Captain Midnight, about a daring hero who led a mysterious government group known as the Secret Squadron. I say apparently because I was very small, and I don't remember much about it at all, except that it was sponsored by Ovaltine. Captain Midnight had earlier been both a radio and silver screen serial hero before making the move to the small screen. I'm sure he was just as good with his fists as he was flying a plane.
Which leads me to Captain Midnight's filmic heir, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which I saw on Sunday. Boy, was this movie fun to watch. It is a rip-roaring adventure featuring just about every single technological marvel that ever appeared in the pages of Popular Science back in the thirties and forties. I enjoyed the hell out of it. That is, as long as I didn't think too hard about it, because there are plot holes big enough to drive a giant robot through. Unfortunately, I had a ninety minute drive home in which to think about it, so here are some things I liked, and some things that bugged.
- It is a very funny movie. The final joke had me laughing out loud, as did the scenes of them flying over terrain with latitude and longitude lines conveniently painted on the landscape.
- "Totenkopf" is German for "dead head."
- Do they really think one guy holding onto a rope (or even several guys) is going to keep the Hindenberg III steady while the passengers disembark? And why did the American dirigibles burn so readily? The Americans always used helium for balloons. The reason the Germans had to use hydrogen in their zeppelins was because the Americans wouldn't sell Hitler any helium.
- When our intrepid heroes woke up in Shangri-La, I half expected Hugo Weaving to walk in and say "Welcome to Rivendell."
- There are so many references of one sort or another to other films. You can start with Indiana Jones. S.C. lands his plane in a very Dagobah-like swamp, complete with lurking creature in the water. The Titanic and the Venture (from King Kong) show up in the underwater scenes. I was even thinking Tora, Tora, Tora as the flying robots were destroying all those P-40s so conveniently parked wing-to-wing at the secret base.
- Shouldn't secret bases be, you know, secret? Polly knows where Sky Captain's base is, which means it's probably shown up as a ten page story in the Chronicle's Sunday supplement at some point, which is probably where the robots got the information they used to plan their attack. Plus, Polly's able to just show up in Joe's office. Is there no security there at all?
- After the attack on the base, Joe lands his plane at the base while the robots are still there. It's the dumbest thing he does in the whole movie (well, except for choosing Polly over Frankie), and really, there's no reason he couldn't have waited until it was safe.
- Another WTF moment was when Joe and Polly break into Totenkopf's hideout, are surrounded by robots, and then are rescued by Dex, the guy they came to rescue in the first place. What's he doing running around loose?
- I was really surprised at how little screen time Frankie got, given how the trailers had played up Angelina Jolie's presence in the film. I had walked away from some of the trailers thinking that she was the lead. In fact, she's only around long enough to have a cup of coffee and die of the bends. It's a shame, because I would've liked to see them explain how a pilot with only one eye is still on flight status, and even more incomprehensible, how a both squadron and helicarrier in His Majesty's Navy came to be commanded by a woman in that era. Also, the Royal Navy seems very laissez faire when it comes to the world ending, but if Dex is in trouble? Tally ho!
- I really wish they hadn't used a historical aircraft for Sky Captain's plane. The P-40 was an important plane, and is correct for the period, but it wasn't a terribly good aircraft. It's got a great reputation because of its association with the American Volunteer Group, aka the Flying Tigers, but most of that reputation was earned despite the aircraft. The P-40 was pretty much outclassed by every other major powers' front line fighters at the time. When P-40s tried to dogfight the more maneuverable Japanese fighters, they usually got slaughtered. The AVG developed tactics that took advantage of the one edge it had. It was faster in a dive than any of the Japanese aircraft, so they would climb above the Japanese formations and dive through them, giving the Japanese no chance to engage. The AVG was extremely effective at this, racking up a victory ratio of 20:1, and that, along with the iconic shark's mouth painted on the front of the planes made them, and the P-40, legendary. (Minor anachronism time - It is implied that Joe was at one time a member of the AVG, with the whole Nanking thread, and certainly his plane has the shark mouth, but the movie is set just before WWII, and the AVG wasn't formed until 1941.)
Anyway, the P-40 looks sleek, but it wasn't terribly fast (max around 350 kts). The proof of this comes when Joe first flies back to his secret base after having just twarted the first robot attack. Five minutes late, the same robot he just destroyed back in NYC is driven into the hanger on a couple of flatbeds, so either those trucks are very fast, or his plane is very slow. Yet it can keep up with robot planes doing 500 kts. I don't care how many modifications Dex did to it. It certainly wasn't maneuverable enough to turn the corner of Tenth and Madison. The airframe should have broken into a million pieces when it hit the water at 300 mph. It shouldn't have even gotten into the air carrying the weight of the batteries it would need to run its submarine motors. The propeller blades shrinking into prop cap was a WTF moment. The best part is that the cabin in a P-40 wasn't pressurized, and isn't air tight. It should've been leaking like a sieve underwater. OTOH, one advance the P-40 did have was self-sealing gas tanks, so a few bullets into the wing shouldn't have started a fire. Shrug.
I didn't have any such problems with the British planes because they were fantasy creations. Okay, I did have a quibble with the propeller blades sliding from the front engine to the back engine, but that's about the only one. I can suspend disbelief for something that has no basis in in reality. I may quibble about the odds that the Royal Navy would have helicarriers and super-advanced planes at a time when a lot of RN and RAF pilots were still flying biplanes, but that one is easily brushed aside in the moment.
- The biggest thing that bugged me is that Polly is a clueless idiot. There's an early scene where Dr. Walter Jennings is explaining that he is the last of the scientists who hasn't been kidnapped yet, and she just doesn't get it. She puts herself and Joe in danger repeatedly by doing stupid things. She pushes buttons that she shouldn't. The only intelligence she demonstrates in the entire flick is when she breaks into Jennings' lab while Joe is trying to figure out a more roundabout way, which is more cunning than smarts in my mind. I still don't get why Joe would prefer her to Frankie. Polly's beautiful and charming, but she's not especially likable, and she's dumb as a post.
(Sidenote - I once shared a monorail compartment at Disney World with a scientist named Walt Jennings. He is a well know character in my field of expertise. He was instrumental in the development of capillary columns for gas chromatography, and he always wears a bow tie.)
Really, despite the quibbles, it's a movie I like a lot.
The Sox defense helped blow another game last night. Bases loaded, the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro at bat, Wakefield throws a knuckleball that handcuffs Mirabilli, getting by him for a passed ball. The runner on third scores, while the other two each advance a base, Mora to third, and Tejada to second. With first base now open, Wakefield winds up walking Palmeiro, and then the fun begins. Mora has a brain spasm, and, thinking that the bases were still loaded when Palmeiro walked, starts trotting home. But they aren't, so it's actually the world slowest attempt at stealing home. Mirabilli runs towards him, and a run down starts. Now, most run downs are short thing. The runner gets tired and gives up, or the runner slips, or the fielder is faster. Usually, a couple three throws and it's over. Not this time. Mora is young and swift, and just kept running back and forth between the fielders, all the while hoping that the runners behind him will try to advance so that his own stupidity will not be totally in vain. Tejada and Palmeiro are having none of it, though.
Meanwhile, the Sox are executing a picture perfect run down. It's a beautiful thing to watch when it's done right. Mirabilli runs at Mora, driving him back towards third as the other infielders start lining up behind the two bases. He tosses to Mueller at third, then circles behind him to get in line behind third himself. Muller now chases Mora the other way before tossing to Wakefield at home. Mueller gets in line at home, and the cycle continues. Wakefield chases, then throws to Reese. Reese chases, then throws to Mueller (now at home). Mueller chases again, and throws to Mirabilli (who's now at third). Mirabilli drops the ball for a second, and Mora sees his shot and dashes madly towards home. Mirabilli makes a quick throw to Millar, who tries to tag Mora, but the impact knocks the ball out of Millar's mitt. If Mora had been out, the scoring would've gone 2-5-1-6-5-2-3, but instead it's E3 and the Sox lose three straight.
[Later that afternoon...
Terry Francona mentioned after the game that the rundown was a disaster from the start because Sox allowed Mora to dictate the how it was going, rather than aggressively driving him back to third. He's dead right about that, so not so picture perfect after all.]