The Sky Crawlers, or Sukai kurora as it is called in Japan, is exciting simply due to the director - Mamoru Oshii. He is the man responsible for the first two, and quite fantastic, Ghost in the Shell movies and his latest project is this movie, The Sky Crawlers. The movie is based on the first novel, released in 2002, in a Japanese series of five novels, and is an equally intriguing prospect as Mamoru's two hit Ghost in the Shell movies.
A group of eternally young fighter pilots known as Kildren experience the sudden loss of innocence as they battle the enemy in astonishing dogfights above the clouds. With his only childhood memory consisting of intense flight training, the fearless teenage pilot Yuichi's dogfights coexist with his struggle to find his missing past. When his beautiful, young female commander Suito is reluctant to discuss the fate of the pilot that Yuichi is replacing - or the strangely perfect condition of that pilot's former aircraft - Yuichi's curiosity becomes heightened.
The Sky Crawlers opens with a brief but rather brilliant opening dogfight sequence which will have you hooked for the rest of the movie, and we must say it only gets better from there in terms of the action sequences, but they are few and far between which means this becomes a rather heavy, dialogue driven movie that, sadly, struggles to match the brilliance of the action sequences. In actual fact I struggled to watch the movie all the way through in a single sitting, it's quite the chore with such a slow pace only broken up occasionally by some action sequences which jolted me back to life.
Of course voice work plays an integral role in any animated movie, but unfortunately the English dub (which seems to make more sense seeing as the characters and settings are more Westernized) leaves much to be desired. From the opening moments the dialogue seems stilted and stiff with little smooth-flowing banter between the characters. Beyond that this movie is brilliant on a sonic level with a wonderful, authentic audio experience during the dogfights.
All-in-all The Sky Crawlers won't be a movie for everyone. Action fans may be disappointed with the lack of actual action throughout the movie and those looking for a more dramatic tone may be left wanting more coherency between, and more depth to, the characters.
Before we get into the technical details we wanted to point out that The Sky Crawlers is very unique on an artistic level too. The characters are very flat, 2D in style with little facial movement or expression, and often very little movement at all. In contrast the flying sections of the movie are very much 3D with some scenes almost photo-realistic including the land below, and water and rain effects. It's actually somewhat distracting to the overall experience of this movie.
The Sky Crawlers comes to Blu-Ray at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 video codec. The transfer really is quite exceptional with no film artifacts and no noticeable compression artifacts either with brilliant colours at times and exceptionally sharp images.
The Sky Crawlers includes both English and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (16-bit/48Khz) audio tracks. The quality, as a result, is impressive with clear dialogue, delightful music and wonderful effects (especially during the dogfights in the air). At times a little sparse the audio presentation on this disc is still very impressive overall.
Other audio tracks on this disc includes a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 640kbps, and a Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Subtitles on this disc are provided in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese. In sampling the English tracks we found that the subtitles were quite different, and shortened, from the on-screen spoken dialogue.
While there are only three extras on this disc, each is actually fairly decent and worth a watch so there is some added value on this disc.
Animation Research for The Sky Crawlers (30:52/HD): This great little "fly on the wall" documentary follows the filmmakers as they go to various locations around Europe for inspiration, feelings and ideas to carry into the movie.
The Sound Design and Animation of The Sky Crawlers (32:16/HD): This is a little more detailed in that the filmmakers go to Skywalker Ranch for visual and audio effects as well as recording dialogue. There's plenty of detail here an it's another fascinating look at the amount of detail that goes into the making of such a film.
Review By: Dave Warner