Home > Reviews > SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW – Edward Shearmur


September 17, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

skycaptainandtheworldoftomorrowOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Having recently been forced to suffer the deaths of Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein – by anyone’s estimation two of the greatest film music composers who ever lived – thoughts within the film music world have quite naturally been turning to wonder who will fill their shoes. One name which keeps re-occurring as a possible future ‘great’ is that of Edward Shearmur, the young English composer who began his career shuffling papers for Michael Kamen, and who now has carved out a solid career for himself through recent scores such as Reign of Fire, The Count of Monte Cristo and Johnny English. As talented as he has shown he can be in the past, nothing will quite prepare you for how good his latest score, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, is.

Directed by Kerry Conran, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is the first feature film entirely shot against a blue screen, with every frame digitally filled after principal photography was completed. Set in a highly stylized 1930s New York which evokes the classic comic book imagery of Max Fleischer and Chester Gould, and with hints of Albert Speer’s Nazi German architecture thrown in for good measure, it stars Jude Law as the eponymous Sky Captain Joe Sullivan, an ace aviator who teams up with reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) to investigate both the mysterious disappearance of famous scientists around the world, and the terrifying appearance of giant flying robots over the city. Aiding by the dashing Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie), and technical genius Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi), Joe and Polly traverse the globe, eventually deducing that the villainous Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier, digitally re-created from old footage) is behind the plot – and that he has plans to destroy the earth!

Of course, the plot sounds somewhat hokey, but that’s sort of the point. Sky Captain is escapism all the way – it is a film which revels in its sense of fun and adventure without cynicism. Contributing immeasurably to the mood of the film is Shearmur’s rousing, flag-waving score, which somehow manages to portray a sense of monumental spectacle and unashamed patriotism while remaining appropriate and entertaining. It could have been horribly cheesy, but thankfully it’s not.

A delicious mixture of John Williams’s thematic brilliance, Elliot Goldenthal’s intelligent dissonance and Erich Korngold’s Golden Age innocence, Shearmur’s music inhabits a world where heroism and derring-do are daily occurrences, and where good triumphs over evil simply through ‘doing the right thing’. Written for full orchestra, with an occasional choir and subtle electronics, Shearmur sets his stall out early with a triumphant statement of the main theme in “The World of Tomorrow”. The central theme, which is vaguely reminiscent of John Williams’s Superman, is prominent throughout the score, and is used mainly as a leitmotif for heroism. It works its way into several cues as the centerpiece (the joyous “Calling Sky Captain”, the martial “Back at the Base”, the conclusive “Back to Earth”) or as a brief fanfare to highlight an event or moment of courage (“An Aquatic Escape”, “Finding Frankie”).

As one would expect, action music plays a major part in Sky Captain, and is more often than not made up of fast, exciting pieces which work through the orchestra, occasionally rising to moments of choral majesty (“The Robot Army”) great spine-tingling crescendos (“Treacherous Journey”), and interpolating complex percussion rhythms into the mix (“Totenkopf’s Ark”). “The Flying Wings Attack” is rather similar in parts to Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator, especially in the circular nature of the writing, but this can probably be chalked up to coincidence. The main influences, as has been mentioned before, are John Williams, especially the through-composed Star Wars scores, and James Horner, whose pulsating action cues in Willow and others are an obvious inspiration.

Other cues of note include “The Zeppelin Arrives”, which is all about grace and majesty, as the enormous balloon docks with the Empire State Building accompanied by Shearmur’s noble and stately music, and “Flight to Nepal”, which adds a brief touch of eastern exoticism to the proceedings. The hesitant love theme for Joe and Polly is soft and string-led, with warm horns to anchor it, and receives its fullest performance in the intriguingly titled “Three in a Bed”, but crops up later as a secondary motif for the intrepid reporter’s adventurous moments. The entire finale, from “Manta Squadron” onwards is simply breathless: relentless in its tempo and construction, and with plenty of performances of the main themes, if flits from cue to cue with such reckless abandon that one cannot help but be swept up in the good-natured gallantry of it all. The superb brass fanfares in “Manta Squadron” are among the best musical moments of the entire album.

The end-title sequence features a new recording of the Oscar-winning standard “Over the Rainbow” sung by the acclaimed young American jazz singer Jane Monheit. Her vocal work, while affected, is oddly appropriate: the film in which it famously appears – The Wizard of Oz – also features in Sky Captain, and the dreamy nature of E.Y. Harburg’s lyrics seem to highlight further the sense of alternate reality Conran wants to create.

The latter half of 2004 is turning into something of a film music gold mine, with Shearmur’s breathless composition standing atop a proud pile. As impressed as I have been with his back catalogue to date, his work on his latest film, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, eclipses all of those scores. With Shearmur, Brian Tyler, Michael Giacchino and other young guns appearing on the horizon, the future of film music looks to be in safe hands indeed.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • The World Of Tomorrow (1:07)
  • The Zeppelin Arrives (1:53)
  • The Robot Army (3:02)
  • Calling Sky Captain (3:25)
  • Back At The Base (2:49)
  • The Flying Wings Attack (6:32)
  • An Aquatic Escape (2:30)
  • Flight To Nepal (4:37)
  • Treacherous Journey (2:22)
  • Dynamite (2:27)
  • Three In A Bed (0:57)
  • Finding Frankie (5:02)
  • Manta Squadron (6:33)
  • H-770-D (1:14)
  • Flying Lizard (1:06)
  • Totenkopf’s Ark (5:02)
  • Back To Earth (3:14)
  • Over the Rainbow (written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, performed by Jane Monheit) (3:55)

Running Time: 57 minutes 50 seconds

Sony Classical SK-92932 (2004)

Music composed and conducted by Edward Shearmur. Performed by The London Metropolitan Orchestra. Orchestrations by Robert Elhai, Brad Warnaar, Jeff Toyne and Edward Shearmur. Recorded and mixed by Steve McLaughlin. Album produced by Edward Shearmur, Teese Gohl and Steve McLaughlin.

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