Alien invasions are totally awesome now. We have Battle: Los Angeles and allegedly 4 Independence Day sequels in development. In the world of television we have a remake of the series V and that one with the doctor from ER, whatever it’s called, let’s say Invaders. To add to them if you’re a gamer who likes shooting invading aliens from space you’ve probably been playing Earth Defense Force 2017 recently. Maybe one day alien invasion stories will be as over played as Zombie stories are now. Ever wondered what happens when zombies go up against aliens? Well wonder no longer because here’s Skyline!
So Skyline is all about an alien invasion and just like H.G Wells War Of The Worlds it focuses on a small group of people trying to survive an event much larger than they can handle. Sounds like a basically decent, if a little pre-worn, premise. Normally I’d go into what the story entails but that really is it. Aliens invade. People sit around, then run for a bit, and then sit around some more before finally doing some standing.
The directors, former special effects guys turn movie helmers, The Brothers Strause manage to make the exact same mistakes here as they made with Aliens Vs Predator Requiem. Well except for forgetting to turn the lights on. This film actually takes place almost entirely in daylight which is almost refreshing these days. As they are former special effects technicians they know a thing or two about getting the best out of their effects for their money. Skyline was produced on a budget of $10 million which is a pretty paltry sum for such a large scale premise. They pull this off by setting almost the entire film in one apartment room and a handful of location on the same building.
The film starts right off the bat with the alien invasion which gives you the impression that they aren’t gonna be wasting any time getting on with the action here. 2 minutes later we’ve flashed back 15 hours. Now you’d expect the flashback to introduce you to the characters, help identify their hopes, dreams and potential character arcs and all that jazz before returning us to the invasion proper. I think you can guess that none of that happens. We learn their names, young couple Jared (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) along with Jared’s old friend Terry (Turk from Scrubs.. Donald Faison) and his 2 ladies that he’s boning for reasons of future empty conflict. We learn Terry is successful for some reason but I seemed to have missed what. Based on the quality of the script and the fact Donald Faison is black I’m gonna guess he’s a hip-hop artist or something. We learn that Elaine is pregnant, a fact anyone with half a brain would have figured out in the first scene when she did the international signal for pregnancy by throwing up in the toilet. Terry offers Jared a job in LA which gives jared some conflict with Elaine, for some reason. I guess she doesn’t want him to be paid well. Basically that’s all we get. No goals, just their names and what they’re doing right now. That is not enough to engage the viewer.
You may have noticed that David Zayas of Dexter fame is in this film, love that guy. He works as a member of staff at the hotel. He appears in 1 scene before the invasion to tell the party to keep the noise down and that’s it for about 40 minutes. Then he just turns up to replace a now dead character in pretty much the same role as competing alpha male. No goals. I suppose you could say survival was their goal. Well they decide to make a run for the marina, that goes badly and they end up back in the apartment again where they decide proactivity isn’t the key to survival. they’re attempt to go to the marina to head out to sea was pretty much hampered by their insistence on using very loud cars to drive the 2 minute journey. Smart.
The aliens in this have to be the most inefficient invading force ever put on film. Sure the initial invasion tactic if pretty elegant. They drop big pretty blue lights down that people then get entranced by before being sucked up into the mother ship. It’s a similar method employed by quite a few of our planets own predators. The aliens then feel it’s best to send floating alien tentacle things and 50ft tall giant skinless creatures after every small band of humans they can find. They relentlessly pursue even the smallest group. Surely that’s pointless. They’re harvesting millions of brains with their light show, apparently they need brains to live which is never really explained as to why, but need giant creature to collect a handful of people. I’m sure every little brain counts but wouldn’t it be better to concentrate efforts on more populated areas?
The whole film just shifts a long with little impetus or proactivity from the characters. They talk a bit without saying anything worthwhile and any conflict they do have has no effect on the actual plot. For instance, it is revealed that Terry is having an affair with his assistant behind his girlfriends back. We discover this in one scene, they say they’ll talk about it later, 2 scenes later talking later stops being an option and so that went nowhere. No mention of it again for the rest of the film. Jared seems to have gained super strength from his exposure to the light early on in the film. This actually pays off when he beats an alien to death with his bare hands… and then he jumps the shark for the films finale and we’re left wondering if we really just saw what we saw. Jumping the shark is the right phrase right? it’s not an English phrase but I assume I used it correctly.
the cinematography is pretty poor by all accounts. It has a distinct made for TV feel to it’s lighting in that all rooms are just lit with a straight forward approach with no attempt to use shadows for creative effect, despite having venetian blinds all over the place. The first scene has some blue light coming through the blinds but it’s effect is diffused by copious amounts of lens flare. I hate lens flare. It rarely has a positive effect. people spent years developing lenses that would eliminate lens flare and these days people are using computers to add it in digitally. You can use lens flare creatively to add a unique feel to a shot, as Bill Pope did in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, but most people just chuck it all over the screen to get in the way of the image. To add to that they seem to be using handheld cameras to excuse poor framing and the occasional lopsided angle. Remember when cameras would get locked down? When CGI started coming in it had to be done for the effects to be rendered on screen correctly. Eventually someone figured out how to do it with a shaky cam and at the same time NYPD Blue became cool and since then everyone’s done it. if I could give one message to modern directors it’s this, “calm your cameramen the fuck down put a tripod under that camera.
I really can’t think of much to recommend here. Sure it has some decent special effects beyond the means of most similar budgeted films, but it also lacks all semblance of story, character or plot. Things and stuff just happen and get said with little effect on the story or characters. No-one has a character arc beyond “I think I’m powerful now” which leads to “yes I am”. I’m not saying a film about a group of survivors in this sort of situation couldn’t work with the story focused entirely on them. Such a story needs to have a real focus on character to work. Even Spielberg’s tepid War of The Worlds got that somewhat right. There’s actually a scene in this ripped directly from War Of The Worlds that loses all it’s tension because by this point you already don’t give a rats arse. It comes around 30 minutes in. Don’t bother with this film. if you want a fun alien invasion film watch Independence Day. If you want a more thought provoking take on that theme watch a toilet bowl for 90 minutes, that or the original version of The Day The Earth Stood Still. Whatever you do don’t bother with Skyline. Oh also the film has Bret Ratner as an Executive Producer. There’s a seal of quality if ever I saw one.
Now what’s this I hear about Battle L.A. being even worse?