Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Film Review: Skyline

It's been a while since we've had a sci-fi movie portraying epic conflict between us humans against superior beings from another world. The last in recent movie history to do so was Roland Emmerich's Independence Day way back in 1996. Sure, we've since had films which have maintained the premise of an alien invasion of Earth, the most notable being remakes; the appalling The Day The Earth Stood Still and Spielberg's adequate War of the Worlds reboot. Where the former was just piss-poor, Spielberg captured what appears to be the current trend for sci-fis of the past decade, that of telling the 'human story' against a backdrop of major events. Indeed, unlike the 1950s original, Spielberg stated he purposely shied away from showing the military's futile efforts to thwart the invaders. From District 9 and Signs to Cloverfield, and even the latest film in this vein, Monsters, action has taken a backseat to the survival stories of the everyman. Whilst these are excellent movies in their own right, what has frustrated action junkies like me is the lack of detail regarding the actual conflict. In the B-movies of the 50s the general theme was to see tank shells bounce off alien shielding and death rays disintegrate little army men. This was a large part of Independence Day's success, the fact that Emmerich had updated a cliched, but altogether much loved scenario with modern-day CGI. Lately it appears Hollywood has listened to my prayers for a return to classic alien invasion action, not only with Skyline, but also with the upcoming Battle: Los Angeles.

Skyline starts off incredibly slowly. Time was not a concept I could comprehend as I sat in the cinema nursing a hangover, but even I could tell that the first forty-five minutes were wholly unnecessary. We are introduced to Jarrod (Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Thompson) who have travelled to LA to vist their affluent friend (Faison, from Scrubs) in his luxurious high-rise apartment. After an overly dramatic party ends with the revelation that Elaine is pregnant, mysterious blue beams of light begin dropping from the sky and strange creatures are seen roaming the streets of LA.

Not only is the opening completely superfluous, it also sets a precedence for what ensues to be, frankly, a shit movie. The dialogue is horribly contrived, poorly delivered by wooden actors. I actually arrived about ten minutes late for the film, so when I sat down I was relieved to see that the action had not yet started. As it turned out, what I had stumbled in on turned out to be a flash forward, before the ridiculously bad introductory scene setting had started. Naturally then, I was then treated to the same scene only half an hour later. The flash forward had turned out to be utterly pointless, adding nothing to the plot.

Still, I had hope. Once the film finally got going the visual effects didn't disappoint. This is Colin and Greg Strause's first full film, normally confined to their expertise of special effects in films such as Benjamin Button, Iron Man 2 and Avatar. From the obvious homages to War of the Worlds where a tentacle cam sweeps an apartment, and Cloverfield where we get glimpses of large monsters on the rampage, to some of the most imaginative ship designs I've seen in a while, Skyline is visually stunning. There were a few shots where the film did expose some shoddy work, but for the most part the Brothers Strause satisfactorily delivered the alien attack action so sorely lacking in its more brainier contemporaries. However, while the effects are dazzling, a lot of the action sequences involving them defy physics. For example, in one scene where the ultra high-tech US Airforce futilely attempts to stage a counter-attack against the aliens, they manage to get a nuke on target, taking down the mothership and obliterating LA. How is this portrayed on Jarrod and co holed up in the high-rise apartment building? Well, a couple of shutters fall off and, yeah, that's it. If that isn't enough to suspend your belief, we're then treated to a brief glimpse of a flattened LA, only five minutes later for the city to be rebuilt intact as if nothing had happened. Rightly, the Strause's maintain a certain reputation in the FX department, but they certainly won't claim any awards for their writing skills, or indeed even nobel laureates in physics.

The problem with Skyline is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. On the one hand it has tried to tap into the general trend of everyman survival stories, whilst on the other trying to go for epic Emmerich style destruction. If it had concentrated wholly on the latter, it might be forgiven for its utterly horrible plot line and terrible characters. In an attempt to flesh out the story and add a heightened sense of what's at stake, we get a crappy backstory of Jarrod being thrust a job opportunity while the pregnancy of his girlfriend is somehow supposed to raise the audience's empathy toward them. Even the supporting role of Dexter's David Zayas as building superintendent does nothing to alleviate the horrible acting in this film. As it turns out, the characters, especially Jarrod, come across completely unlikable and consequently their fait inconsequential. Ultimately, I would have been more than happy to sit back and watch more destruction, rather than have the annoying interludes of drudging "character arcs". And don't even get me started on the most idiotic ending I've seen in a long time. Skyline has some neat ideas, but it generally falls flat on its arse. Hopefully Battle: Los Angeles will give us the epic alien attack movie that's been missing from the silver screen since Independence Day.


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