The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray Review

Young pilot Kannami is accustomed to the blue, yet red stained, skies of war. Trained from childhood to become the best fighter pilot possible, he is now one of his country’s aces. One day he arrives at a new military post and is given a new plane to fly. But the plane feels somewhat familiar to Kannami, as if he used it before. Strangely, the original pilot of the plane is nowhere to be found and is rumored to have been murdered by the base’s commanding officer Kusanagi Suito. That same commanding officer shows great interest in Kannami, even though he has never met her before. As time goes by Kannami learns more about the base he had been stationed at, including Kusanagi’s world-view and the legacy left for him by his plane’s original pilot. But will this be enough to break the vicious cycle of war and free Kannami and Kusanagi from their personal demons?

The Sky Crawlers is a slow journey into a different world. A world in which time has frozen and a never ending war between two nations is at place. A world where most of the fighter pilots are kildren – children who are unable to grow into adults. Kannami is one such kildren and through him we learn about the daily life, as well as regular battles, undertaken by the kildren. The movie has a sad, sometimes depressing, atmosphere to it. Most pilots come off as cold professionals, which is a little problematic considering these are kids we are talking about. Although the reason why the kildren are so adapted and skilled at flight is explained in an intriguing and satisfying way, the fact that they are cold-hearted emotionless soldiers is far from satisfying. While watching The Sky Crawlers you might be inclined to believe that the kildren are simply so trained (or so depressed) that they don’t need to show emotions despite the fact that they are children. But by the second half of the movie the kildren suddenly start to be much more emotional. This contradiction is further enhanced by the way faces are drawn in the movie. The Sky Crawlers looks wonderful. The visual quality is great. Everything looks sharp and detailed in 1080p. The backgrounds are rendered in engrossing detail and character designs, while obviously blend due to portraying a military environment, are effective. People are drawn realistically, which means most of them don’t look too pretty or too cliché. The real problem arises from the way they express themselves. All the characters in the movie have unexpressive doll faces – a staple of movies directed by Oshii Mamoru. This drawing style, which worked just fine for other movie by Oshii (such as Ghost in the Shell) doesn’t fit the tone or the plot of this movie at all. In fact the eerie emotionless faces everyone possesses are disturbing as they are unappealing. It also makes it very hard to connect to the characters on an emotional level, since they won’t allow you to see beyond their outer porcelain shell. Body language is almost nonexistent in The Sky Crawlers, propelling me to assume that emotional characterization was not planned very well for this movie.

Only half of the story happens on the ground. When duty calls all the pilots take to the skies. The Sky Crawlers does a fantastic job in differentiating between the ground and air sequences. Whenever the kildren are flying in the air the animation switches to elaborate and stunning CG. The airplanes look great, the dog fights are fast and furious, and even the grass and the sky have a beautiful sheen to them. The aerial CG portions mix flawlessly with the more traditionally drawn ground portions, raising the overall art in the movie by a level or two. The sound track takes a traditional approach. It has soothing quiet themes for the ground segments and tasteful energetic themes for the aerial segments. It provides a good backdrop for the story, but isn’t memorable or praiseworthy. The movie comes with an abundance of dubs and subtitle options. You can watch it in Japanese, English, Portuguese and Spanish, all of which are presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The subtitle selection is also diverse, offering English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. The Sky Crawlers is one example in which the English dub is far superior to the Japanese one. The Japanese dub track is not balanced well with the music sound track – the Japanese dub track is very low while the music sound track tends to be high. If you choose to watch the movie in Japanese you’ll have to constantly amp up the volume to hear what people are saying or lower it when the music takes over. The English dub is much more balanced with the music and is easier on the ear. Moreover, the movie takes place in a European setting and in the air the pilots speak in English even in the Japanese dub. The Japanese actors don’t do a very good job when forced to speak English, resulting in some not so fluent English sentences. That is why the more consistent and balanced English track is recommend.

The Sky Crawlers has a rich and intriguing story to tell. Sadly, the movie suffers from slow pacing, to the point that watching its beginning is more like a chore then a joy. Everything in The Sky Crawlers is slow, and this doesn’t only apply to story elements. Characters move slowly, taking a tremendous amount of time to do even the most mundane of tasks. At one point Kannagi sees a batch of enemy aircrafts and hurries to phone his commander and report; And by “hurries” I mean nonchalantly walking across a room, slowly searching his pocket for spare change and carefully spinning the dial one circle at a time. I kid you not, The Sky Crawlers is that slow. The flight scenes, while fast and powerful when fights occur, also suffer from this sluggish pace. When the planes are not engaged in battle (for example, on scouting missions) they have no sense of speed at all, as if they are big balloons floating in the air. The pace hastens considerably in the second half of the movie. Basically everything you will learn about the characters comes from the second half. This is the half in which characters express themselves, where the drama unfolds and where the action really counts. The sudden change in pacing almost makes it feel like these are two separate movies taped together. It really brings to light the problematic pacing during the first half. To add insult to injury the movie doesn’t have a conclusive ending. How did the director and crew manage to have the first hour of the movie drag endlessly while the second hour turned out so crammed that it could not provide us with a more coherent ending?

The movies’ Blu-ray extras come in the form of two documentary clips and an interview with the director. One documentary clip is supposed to focus on the animation research for the movie, but is in fact about the background sample-collecting preparations (the crew flew all the way to Europe to check landscapes and buildings). The second documentary is about the sound design (the music, not the dub). Both are interesting extras and, just like the movie itself, are presented in 1080p. The interview with Oshii Mamoru is very short – only three or four minutes show the interview itself, with the rest of the video features clips from the movie and varies publication events that the crew participated in.

The Sky Crawlers is a flawed movie, one that cannot distribute its plot and character development evenly. Certain aspects of the movie, such as the backgrounds and dog fights, look amazing while other aspects, such as the facial expressions and characters movement, look terrible. Likewise the movie is too slow and ineffective on its first half and desperately tries to compensate for this in its second half. It’s a shame that the movie couldn’t set a higher overall standard for itself. Nonetheless it is an intelligent and pleasant movie that rewards you for you patient in the end.

 


Pros:

- Detailed backgrounds and beautiful CG animation.

- The second half is packed with good dialogues and action.

 

Cons:

- Characters are emotionless dolls.

- Pacing is ridiculously slow in the first half.

- The movie offers no real closure.


 

Final Score: 7.5/10

 

 

Product Information: The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray. Published by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Release date: May 26, 2009.

Review Equipment: Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PlayStation 3 using an official Sony HDMI cable.


 

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