Friday, 30 May 2014

Skyline (2010)

Skyline (2010)
Directed by Greg and Colin Strause; Starring Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison

Rating: 1/5

I’m not going spend a huge amount of time on this one, because it came out four years ago, and honestly, it’s really not worth it. But it’s not often that I’d rate a film so low. I’ve seen a lot of films that would be easy to criticise, but I always salvage some kind of entertainment value. At the very least, you’re along for the ride. With Skyline, I can’t even say that.

This film just happened to be on TV this month; I’d heard of it, and I saw that it had Donald Faison in it, who was always funny as Turk in Scrubs. Skyline isn’t a comedy, and he’s wasted, although he’s clearly the most engaging member of the cast. As if to rub salt in the wound, he disappears fairly early on, but not before setting up a trite soap-opera love triangle, the tension of which is completely destroyed when all the parties are unceremoniously offed. The rest of the cast is even more forgettable.

The film opens with a mysterious blue light filtering through the window as our characters wake up in a penthouse apartment. Just as something interesting might be about to happen, we flash back to the previous day for some character exposition. We have to sit through everyone partying in the penthouse the night before, meeting each other and even more unnecessary extras that will vanish completely come morning.

I understand why they wanted to have an intriguing credits sequence. Nobody would sit through twenty minutes of inconsequential partying if they film started that with without any other explanation. We’d have no idea where it was going or what the film was even about. The problem is that we still have to sit through the inconsequential partying in order to find out what it’s all about.

The answer is that it’s an alien invasion film. The blue light has a kind of enticing beauty that causes anyone who stares into it to walk willingly into the aliens’ death machines. I do think this is an interesting idea. The concept that the aliens possess intelligence so superior to our own that they can manipulate us as easily as we draw moths to a deadly electric lamp (or how deep-sea fish lure their play with a glowing lure) is truly chilling.

The effects are good, as they should be considering that the directors are really visual effects artists by trade. The visuals cost $10 million of the film’s budget, while the live-action stuff was done on the cheap, shot in the directors’ apartment building for half a million, almost as an afterthought. There are big monsters, alien spaceships swooping around, tentacles grabbing people and all the rest.

The film just falls down completely on any kind of convincing plot or characters. You simply do not care about anyone. They behave unpleasantly towards each other and formulate ludicrous plans, such as making for a boat to escape the flying aliens, or driving across town in loud, high-powered sports cars. You spend more time questioning the stupidity of these half-baked choices than invested in the story. But this is just talk: the characters barely leave their apartment, and don’t even die as the result of their bad decisions. They seem to be dispatched at random, as if nothing matters.

Conceptually, everything’s incredibly derivative. Some aliens fly around trailing tentacles like the machines from The Matrix (1999), the large monsters stumble around and crush cars like in Jurassic Park (1993) and climb buildings like King Kong (1933), and the government unsuccessfully tries to nuke the mother ship like in Independence Day (1996).

Similarly, it can be no coincidence that the film came out around the same time as Battle: Los Angeles (2011), a higher profile LA-set invasion film. I haven’t seen that one, but the effects for both were done by Hydraulx Entertainment – the visual effects company owned by Greg and Colin Strause: the directors of Skyline.

If the characters blandness wasn’t egregious enough, you even question the logic or motivation of the aliens. They possess invincible ships with regenerative abilities and lights with the ability to utterly entice humanity. They can suck billions from the streets of a city in minutes, but need to devote resources to sending scouts door to door to pick off every last individual human, and they feel the need to supplement this with a pack of gigantic monsters whose motivation is to wreck up the place. Finally, they want to harvest our brains, which for some reason can perfectly interface with their technology.

The simplicity of the name ‘Skyline’ carries a certain amount of elegant gravitas which it utterly fails to capitalise on. It may have some merits as a special effects exercise, but nothing more. There’s nothing here that isn’t done much more successfully in other movies. If you want tune out your brain (before the aliens abduct it) and watch an overblown invasion, do yourself a favour: go back and watch Independence Day (1996).

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