Set in a mythic version of the late 1930s, this movie is a stunning tribute to classic sci-fi serials, comics and pulp magazines of that era. Starting with a reporter investigating the disappearances of top scientists, the story quickly becomes a nearly constant barrage of giant robots, aeroships, submarine planes, ray guns and retro technology on a grand scale. The plot, which hurtles across maps of the world Indiana Jones style, definitely take a back seat to the effects. The character interactions are all predictable. But all of that is consistent with the genre, and for me it didn't get in the way of enjoying the hell out of this movie.
What sets this film apart from others is that every scene was shot against a blue screen. Except for some hand props and the actors themselves, the whole thing was computer generated. We've certainly seen plenty of CG, going all the way back to "The Last Starfighter" in the 80s, but I've never seen anything done so stylishly or so well. Perhaps the hazy, murky look is perfectly suited to both the 1930s atmosphere and the current state of the art of CG. It works.
The packed screening was followed by a Q&A with director Conran, who turned out to be an impressively low-key, likable guy. He started working on the film about 10 years ago with a blue screen in his living room, wondering whether he could create an entire movie in his Mac. The first 6 minutes took him 2 years. Initially he made an animated version, which actors later used as a guide as they mimed their way through the live version. When Paramount got involved they insisted on big-name actors, so the theatrical release is actually version 3. Hopefully all three will make it onto the eventual DVD. Conran mentioned that for his next project he wants to tackle Edgar Rice Burroughs' epic John Carter series.
The presenter, a filmmaking friend of Conran's, closed the screening with a joke about Pete Townshend meeting Eric Clapton in a London bar and commiserating about some new kid named Hendrix, "who's gonna kick our asses." He imagined that Spielberg and Lucas might soon be having a similar conversation somewhere in California. I have to agree that it seems like a distinct possibility.
Thanks to serutan for this review!