''I never thought me, of all people, would be in a movie where they'd be like, 'Okay, roll to your left -- there's a giant robot foot coming at you!''' says Gwyneth Paltrow. ''But I love the fact that I am.'' Paramount's loving that fact too, because with ''Sky Captain'' -- a $70 million-plus meld of flesh and blood and digital animation that's steeped in old-school sci-fi like Commando Cody serials and Max Fleischer Superman cartoons and directed by a rookie filmmaker -- the studio is fielding one of the fall's riskiest offerings. Fortunately, the box office prospects are bolstered by not just one Oscar winner but two, with Angelina Jolie sporting a Brit accent and an eye patch as the leader of an elite amphibious squadron (mop up that drool, fanboy!).
There's also two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law, who brings along his geek cred: Would you believe the ''Cold Mountain'' golden boy collects comic books? ''I got the film immediately,'' says Law. ''I just thought it was about time someone took us back to a science-fiction genre that's without cynicism, that's more innocent and optimistic.''
Law (also a producer) plays the titular hero, a rakish adventurer who teams with his reporter ex-girlfriend (Paltrow) to rescue his trusty sidekick (Giovanni Ribisi) and some scientists from a mystery villain named Dr. Totenkopf. Writer-director Kerry Conran spent 10 years developing ''Sky Captain'' -- four years alone on a six-minute test video that proved compelling enough to land him a producer (Jon Avnet), independent financing (Paramount purchased U.S. distribution rights last summer), and his cast (Paltrow committed even before seeing a script).
Shot entirely against green screen on London soundstages, ''Sky Captain'' was originally scheduled for a June release but was moved to fall at Avnet's urging. ''I begged them not to come out right before 'Spider-Man 2.' You can't compete with that. God bless 'em for changing their minds,'' says Avnet, adding that the extra time allowed Conran and his team of 89 computer artists to fine-tune the film. After a decade-long filmmaking journey, the shy, unassuming Conran says he's not sure what to do with himself now. ''I keep thinking, 'I have to go to work tomorrow' -- but we're finished. It's going to take awhile for those withdrawals to go away,'' he says. ''I hope I can actually think about something else.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE Oh, only the future of the highly lucrative, big-budget, computer-generated, retro-sci-fi genre.