REVIEW: Sky High

It’s odd how promotion works. By all logic, Disney should have been overpromoting “Sky High” in a manner befitting a summer family offering that can easily be described with the lofty-sounding “Harry Potter’ meets ‘The Incredibles.” If that had happened, the film may well have played as “underwhelming.” But instead, the studio has barely promoted the film, and gently nudged it into a late-July release. As a result, what we have here is a quaint little gem of a family comedy that can be properly seen in the light of it’s own measured self-assurance.

Set in the basic comic book universe where superheroes and their adventures are just a fact of life, (a world which, thanks to the cinema audience’s growing awareness of the genre, the film happily doesn’t need a mountain of exposition to explain,) the story centers on “Sky High,” a secret trade school for teenage superheroes-to-be on a floating island above the clouds. The film’s comic conciet is that all the “typical” issues of high school life are here magnified to absurd degrees by the presence of superpowers and the social stratas of superhero mythos: At Sky High, the “popular” and “unpopular” cliques divide between those students with cool, impressive powers who are destined to be Heroes and those with silly or unimpressive powers (or no powers at all) who can only aspire to be Sidekicks. (Dave Foley plays the head teacher of the Sidekicks, Mr. Boy, and if you’re already giggling a bit at that this is the movie for you.)

As high school movies are seldom set among the popular kids, the plot proper follows the exploits of a group of Freshman already branded Sidekicks, mostly for sporting powers of such dubious practicality as glowing in the dark or morphing into a purple gineau pig. One among them, Layla, has the technically hero-worthy power to control plants but remains a Sidekick as a flower-child protest against the class system. Michael Angarano has the lead as Will Stronghold, who’s the son of world-renowned superhero couple The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston) and thus has Potter-style fame preceeding him: Except that he hasn’t gotten his powers (read: puberty) yet.

So that’s the gag, comic book lore as allegory for growing-pain angst, and once you figure that out it’s not hard to plot where this is going: Naturally, Will sprouts his powers suddenly and must make choices about whether to abandon his uncool Sidekick friends for induction into the Superhero in-crowd. Yes, there’s a super-hot dreamgirl who comes between Will and Layla’s long-unexpressed mutual crush on him, and yes, there’s a “party while the folks are away” scene augmented by the presence of superpowers. And a big old-fashioned no-prize to all you smarties who guessed that this main teen relationships plot and the bubbling subplots of a return by an old foe of The Commander and nefarious goings-on at Sky High will all turn out to be interrelated.

But, damn, the thing really works, and the big reason why is that it’s supremely sincere about it’s material: The high-school dramedy is played straight and without overdone sarcasm, and the very Silver Age superheroics have clearly been conceptualized by folks with a genuine fondness (not to mention familiarity) with capes, tights and secret identities. Fans of the 80s Teen Titans or old-school Legion of Superheroes devotees take note: This movie is definately for you.

The young cast handles it’s job with uniform quality, the standouts being Angarano and Steven Strait as Warren Peace, (which I found hysterical every time, for some reason,) an enigmatic loner student who throws fireballs, nurses a family grudge against Will and has a genuinely interesting character arc.

As for the grownups, just as the “Harry Potter” cycle has locked in the services of British character greats in the adult roles, the teachers and parents of “Sky High” are a glorious grab bag of geek-culture icons: Alongside Russell we have Linda Carter as Principal Powers, Kevin Heffernan as a bus driver, Foley’s onetime “Kids in The Hall” cohort Kevin McDonald as a big-brained science teacher and, yes, Bruce Campbell as Coach Boomer.

This isn’t the cure for cancer, but I had a lot of fun at this and I think most audiences will if they give it a chance. Reccomended.


President to schools: Teach fantasy in science class

This was innevitable, and nowhere near as big a deal as it’s going to be made out to be, but it still has me a little bit hacked off. This just isn’t the sort of news story I like to come home to…,2933,164446,00.html

Headline: “Bush: Schools Should Teach ‘Intelligent Design’ Alongside Evolution”

Let’s not panic just yet.

Here’s what this is about: “Intelligent Design” is the new catchphrase for the religious anti-evolution movement. Finally unable to continue arguing that Darwinian evolution “never happened” in the face of every shred of actual scientific data on the subject, the movement has readjusted itself from attacking the theory as a whole to attacking it’s key component: That natural development stems from random trial-and-error rather than the edicts of a divine superpower. “Intelligent Design,” while refered to as a “theory,” is in fact a philosophical “what if?” query, arguing that the intricacy of some natural systems are so complex as to make randomness less likely and perhaps serve as circumstantial evidence that a “higher power” is at work. In plain english: “Doesn’t some of this look SO perfect that SOMEONE must have been in charge?”

Intelligent Designists, who actually include a smattering of mostly-reputable scientists among their number, want this question given equal time in science classes alongside actual evolution. Some educators agree, a majority do not. The issue is currently the subject of heated debate, largely in communities where religious “conservatives” and/or creationists have heavy political sway.

President Bush has now weighed in on “teach both theories” side, which should be surprising to approximately nobody. This is politics, plain and simple, red meat to the religious hardliners whom the Republican party must sadly rely on for grassroots support. Dubya, like most U.S. presidents, has never pretended to be a big devotee of matters scientific, this is a “you’re still my guys” reassurance likely calculated to assuage those in the evangelical community still irked that his Supreme Court pick wasn’t an open foe of Roe v. Wade.

Here’s where I have an issue with this:

Firstly, “Intelligent Design” is not a “theory,” it is a hypothesis.” Theory, among the most misused words in the english language, is correctly defined as referring to a hypothesis that has withstood a large variety of tests and challenges. So at it’s base, calling this a theory and thus worthy of placement alongside Darwin’s survival of the fittest is just incorrect on the raw level of language.

Now, does this mean that I don’t want it brought up in schools? Absolutely not. This is an idea, one worthy of discussion, and should be debated and hashed out and openly espoused and challenged in any classroom it can be.

But not in a science class.

Science is the study of facts and theories pertaining to such. By it’s very nature, it must narrowly define it’s scope to the provable realities of the natural world. “Intelligent Design,” by it’s own design, implies that there is a “designer,” which implies a supernatural, paranatural or extraterrestrial element. None of these things are provable or disprovable by any existing methods, thus they do not belong in the serious discussion of a science class any more than the anatomy of Bigfoot belongs in a primate-biology class or flying saucers belong in an astronomy class.

Intelligent Design should not be “banned” from schools any more than any other idea should be. But to insist that it be introduced in the realm of scientific education is wrong, and the President is wrong to support those who would do so. The “conservative” ideology that President Bush claims to espouse has always held the adherence to fact and logic as one of it’s core ideals, and pushing for a hypothesis to be taught as actual science in order to please a special interest group flies in the face of that. Matters of faith, spirituality and the supernatural are philosophy, and Intelligent Design belongs in a philosophy class.