Thursday, 2 December 2010

Skyline - (2010) - Cinema Review (6/10)

Keep Your Brain!

What went wrong? After some initially positive buzz and a trailer that got people interested and excited, Skyline turned into a bit of a damp squib at the box-office.

The film concerns itself with an alien invasion of Earth, in a similar style to everything from War of the Worlds to Independence Day. In this case, following events from the perspective of a small group of friends trapped in a Los Angeles apartment block, as they witness what happens and try to survive.

'The Brothers Strause', as they have named themselves, were responsible for producing and directing the film with their own funds. They own their own Hollywood effects company, and their previous (and first) feature-film directing credit was the rather dreadful Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem. This was the first bad sign, but supposedly a lot of studio interference marred that film, and Skyline was meant to be their independent proof of talent. Unfortunately it falls a little flat.

In itself, the idea is rather good fun. It steals rather obviously from a number of films, but with enough variation that it never quite feels too deliberate (Unlike, for example, a film like Avatar that copies only one or two films far too closely). In the character and location set-up, we are reminded of Cloverfield (without the shakeycam), and there are scenes reminiscent of any number of films, from War of the Worlds to Independence Day and everything in between.

The aliens and their vehicles have similarities to The Matrix, Cloverfield, Independence Day, War of the Worlds, even possibly Howard the Duck! To name just a few... Again, most are just removed enough from their possible inspirations, that they don't spoil the film. Unfortunately it does stop the creature and vehicle designs feeling particularly original and inspiring, as well.Although almost any film can trace its inspirations back to a multitude of others, Skyline does have a tendency to almost proudly show its own influences too directly, on the surface.

It's a strange film, because unlike many such movies, instead of starting out with the its interesting premise and ideas, then going downhill from there, it does the opposite. It starts out spending too much time introducing utterly bland characters with whom the audience cares little, then gains momentum through the increasing tension and action. If the characters had been interesting, and gained our sympathy and support in the first place, it would have been time well spent. Unfortunately it wasn't, which of course damages the effectiveness of the otherwise well-constructed action later on.

Lack of characterisation, is Skyline's biggest flaw. There are any number of potential plot holes, from improbable survival in close proximity to a nuclear blast (Along with nary a consequence of note), through to unrealistic military tactics, to explosive gas that seems to leave people completely conscious without any drowsy effects at all. All conceits that could have been somewhat forgiveable (How many successful films get away with worse?), had it not been for the utter lack of sympathetic and interesting characters that make us want to witness and follow their struggle to survive.

The characters are dreadful stereotypes, from the 'successful partying playboy' to the 'cool artist dude'. Strangely, the 'playboy' character exhibits every trait you would associate with someone who is supposed to be a shallow musical star (Perhaps a rapper or some-such), but turns out to be a special effects expert. It's as though the script writers wrote one thing, and the Strause brothers decided to change the character's livelihood as a nod to their own, without altering any of the clich├ęd trappings of the character's previous incarnation.

Jarrod, the lead character and 'cool artist dude', is played by Eric Balfour (known for numerous small parts in a variety of TV series). Unfortunately he seems completely miscast. His look and demeanour hint that he should be some gun-wielding LA 'gangsta'. Between the lack of interesting personality in the script, and his inappropriate casting and on-screen persona, it is difficult to care what happens to Jarrod, as events unfold.

The female characters, such as his pregnant girlfriend, seem to have even less depth. In one scene, a lone military drone struggles through impossible odds and personal injury, to sacrifice itself in a last ditch effort to bring down an alien vessel. The drone gains more of our emotion and has a more sympathetic and brave personality than any of the human characters. When you realise that, you also realise that something has truly gone awry with the script and direction.

It may seem as though I'm coming down hard on Skyline. The action scenes are often effective and well executed, the special effects are for the most part excellent, and the pace does build adequately as the film progresses. Make no mistake, the stars of this film are the special effects, and considering its rumoured low-budget of ten million dollars, it does look spectacular. This isn't a film that throws all of its best moments at you during the trailer. There is plenty of eye-candy to enjoy, from big explosions to gooey aliens.

As events progress, there are elements that feel straight out of classic 50s science fiction. It's over-the-top and extremely fun for someone such as myself, who is a fan of classic SF, but I can also see how those elements could appear 'cheesy' to a modern audience less versed in the genre.

Another positive on Skyline's side, is the ending. It's flawed, because it leaves things deliberately open for a sequel without a conclusion, but it did appear that it was going to end in a much more stereotypical and annoyingly pointless and hopeless way. So the subsequent ending did feel more satisfying. It ends with some hope, albeit it an extreme way that many may not like. In fact, the conclusion reminded me of something straight out of Edgar Rice Burroughs 'Synthetic Men of Mars' (first published in 1939). As such, I enjoyed its somewhat old-school sense of fun, mixed with modern action and effects.

So really Skyline is a mixed bag, but at the end of it all, I can't avoid some of its gaping flaws. I would suggest a rental for fans of science fiction, with the proviso that you don't expect anything outstanding. As for those of you who are not science fiction fans, I would advise giving it a miss.

It's a shame, as Skyline had a lot of potential. There are rumours of a sequel, and given the ending, it could be great fun. However, I won't hold my breath. I'm giving it 6 out of 10, for the sheer fun of some scenes, but that's being very generous, overall.


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