Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SKYLINE – 2010 – IS IT EPIC SCI-FI OR EPIC SCI-FAIL?


SKYLINE – (2010) – IS IT EPIC SCI-FI OR EPIC SCI-FAIL?


I was really looking forward to seeing Skyline, based almost entirely on the two minute and twenty second trailer that appeared online just two weeks prior to the film’s release. I am very selective about what films I see at the theater and I always do some research online before seeing them. The only solid reason that I had to hope that Skyline might be a first-rate sf film was that I had enjoyed the co-directors previous film Alien vs. Predators: Requiem. That and of course the previously mentioned awesome trailer.

 

Skyline plain and simple is an alien invasion movie. The difference between this film and almost every other sf film alien invasion movie is that it all takes place from the point of view of one small group of characters; all of whom have no professional background in science or any other field that would help them – and hence… the audience – understand what is happening outside of the apartment building that they have found themselves trapped in. The film is broken up into three acts: Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

Day 1 of Skyline deals with a small group of friends, who awake early in the morning in an alcoholic post-party haze, when they see streams of bright light beaming down from the sky. This gazing out of the windows of the penthouse apartment goes on for some time, until with the help of a telescope, they see that actual human bodies are being drawn up by the light and taken into some type of alien space craft. The beams of light begin to penetrate the windows of the apartment and they seem to have a mesmerizing effect on the person that it shims on. After one of the group is taken, the rest cover the windows with blankets in an attempt to hide.

Day 2 begins with smaller ships, which look more like flying squids, attacking the apartment and trying to pull the people out of the building. Their numbers dwindling, the group forms an escape plan. They take two vehicles from the garage – a sports car and an SUV – and the smaller car upon exiting is immediately stepped on by some sort of alien bi-peddle tank like creature. With only three of the group remaining, they retreat to the penthouse apartment, feeling entrapped and hopeless.

Day 3 finds the trio of survivors awoken by the thundering of jet planes. They peek out through the draped windows to find the sky full of air force jets of all types, dog-fighting with the smaller alien craft and firing air-to-air missiles at the larger ships. As the battle continues, it becomes apparent that the human forces are losing the immediate battle. In one desperate move, a stealth fighter fires a small nuclear device at one of the larger ships and it hits. The ship explodes in a burst of fire and begins falling from the sky. This gives hope to the remaining survivors, but the hope is short lived.


I have intentionally avoided describing any of the characters in the film, because none of them are fully realized. Even the male and female leads, who are the viewpoint characters, and who I assume we are supposed to sympathize with, aren’t given more than the briefest of backstory. The actors playing these characters are fine, so I don’t blame them that I didn’t find them particularly likable or sympathetic. This is a real weakness for Skyline, because the entire film takes place from their point of view. Telling the story this way was a risky move on the part of the filmmakers, because it places all of the emotional gravitas on just two characters. The second problem this causes is that all the crucial plot information comes from characters who are completely unaware (unlike the sci-fi fans in the audience) of what is happening to them. It seems to take them far too much time for them to understand the tremendous scale of the danger that they are in. I can understand their initial shock, but you would think by the end of the first day, they would be at least be trying to find a means of escape.

Even with these faults, there are still moments of Skyline that were interesting and exciting. Unfortunately, most of these moments take place on Day 3 and in sporadic fashion at that. If you are patient, this segment of Skyline does reward you with some genuinely scary and exciting action that finally affects the two lead characters. I think the film would have been better served if the first two acts were combined into one and reduced by half. The problem with this is that the film would run to about 60 minutes, instead of its already short 92 minute running time. This brings me to the final problem with Skyline: It ends on a cliffhanger! I don’t want to ruin the film for those brave enough to watch Skyline despite all the negative reviews (of which this one would most likely qualify), by revealing what happens in the last ten minutes of the film. You’ll just have to take my word for it that Skyline would have had to have been a 3 hour film to complete the new plot line that is begun in those last 10 minutes! I left the theater at the end of Skyline feeling like I had watched the first half of an above –average TV mini-series. I do hope that despite the poor reviews and the lackluster first weekend grosses that the makers of Skyline will be able to finish the story that they began with this film.

I also hope that that Colin and Greg Strause (the directors) are able to finish the story that they began in Skyline with a sequel, because it may enable them to correct some of the mistakes they made in the first film. I honestly don’t think that Skyline is a good film, but I do think it was a good attempt and had it been executed better, may have even been a great film.

There have been so few truly SCIENCE fiction films, that I like to support even imperfect attempts at it. I think even a failed attempt like Skyline deserves to have both the positive and negative aspects of the film as a whole pointed out, so that we as fans can hopefully encourage film makers to continue to make not only good sf films, but excellent ones.




10 comments:

  1. Well my friend, you pretty much sum up all of my concerns with the film. Granted, I think you are more than kind and fair to it. heck, your're a guardian of the genre so at least you give films a fair shake.

    Honestly Doc, these Strauss brothers aren't good storytellers I suspect. I noticed their credits on the special effects for the last Hulk film and to be honest they just don't cut the mustard as far as delivering a strong science fiction tale.

    I'm sure some of the scenes looked good, but when I saw the trailer my reaction was quite the opposite. I thought it looked horrible. It didn't grab my interest at all. It looked like Independence Day 2. I dunno.

    I think of another film where character was fairly well delivered amidst a great story and a conclusion that left it open-ended- that film, for me, is what I'm looking for and that was District 9.

    Anyway, loved that you reviewed the film and delivered your thoughts on it. I hate to say it, but you have reinforced my desire to steer clear of the film.

    I must admit, you've intrigued me with your like for AVP Requiem when so many have hated it. I wonder what drew you to it? I haven't seen it. But I wasn't crazy about the first one and you know I like Paul W.S. Anderson, but it was disappointing to me.

    Off for some shut eye. Happy Thanksgiving DOC!

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  2. I’m glad my review of Skyline seemed fair to you, Sci-Fi Fanatic, because that was indeed my goal. I saw the film almost two weeks ago and had planned on writing a review of it the next day. However, I also wanted to finish my posts on my Scare-a-thon films first, so it took this long to write this admittedly incomplete review. The long delay between my viewing Skyline and writing the review of it caused two things: 1 – It gave me time to really evaluate what it was about Skyline as a whole that kept me from enjoying what should have been an exciting effects-laden sci-fi drama and 2 – It allow me time to read other blogger’s reviews and reactions to the film, most of which I felt were reactionary and unfairly critical. This is why my review ended up more of an evaluation of what Skyline could have been, rather than what it actually was.

    I don’t think you can judge the Strauss Brothers on their special effects only credits. Yes, the Hulk film that they did a lot of the effects work on was not a good film, but since they were working from someone else’s script and direction, I don’t think they can be blamed for its poor story. Just a cursory look at the many films they did sfx work on shows the various levels of quality of films their work appeared in. The Good: Galaxy Quest, T3: Rise of the Machines (yes, I liked this one), 300, Avatar, and Iron Man 2. The Bad: Volcano, Fantastic Four, The Fog, Aeon Flux, The Invasion, and 2012.

    I too liked District 9, but not knowing what happened to Wikus after he entered the alien spacecraft honestly didn’t make me feel cheated out of an ending; or desperate for a sequel. Although the character drama was much stronger in District 9 than in Skyline, it had to be because of the type of story that D9 was telling. D9 was very much a little human drama, dealing with segregation and prejudice, which just happened to be about extraterrestrial aliens, instead of terrestrial ones. Skyline was a large-scale war film, which told the story of the complete devastation of wartime from the civilian viewpoint, which just happened to be between humans and aliens.

    My goal of reviewing most films is to share the films that I was personally excited by and thought that my fellow genre fans would also like. That is why so far I have not reviewed any films that I disliked. I made an exception with Skyline, because I truly believe with some tweaking of the story and a more satisfying conclusion, it could have been at least an entertaining film.

    I love all but one of the Alien films (Alein3 still has me wondering what the studio was thinking). I also love the two original Predator movies. I really liked AvP on several levels too complicated to go into here. AvP:R was different from its predecessor in ways that I felt helped us understand the alien intelligence of the Predator species better than any of the films, save maybe Predator 2. AvP:R was not as tightly plotted as AvP, but I liked the way in which the humans and the Predator end up working together to eliminate the threat of the Alien creatures.

    I’d better finish off here, as my comments are ending up being almost as long as my review. I hope you and your family had a happy Thanksgiving, S-F F. As always, thanks for checking in.

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  3. I was intrigued by the previews for this movie, but then then avalanche of negative reviews held me from going to see it. Im still curious for it and Im sure I will probably enjoy it to some extent when I finally get to watching it, because I will watch it. I support sci-fi films, I love them.

    But hearing that this film came from the same duo that made AVP:REQUIEM took it down a couple of thousands notches for me, I HATED that movie! It was so dissapointing!

    Im sure that this movie will make its money back, It only cost 10 million to make, so that assures a sequel will be made if this film doubles its budget, which probably wont be a hard thing to do since it is so low. For a hollywood flick anyways.

    Sound intriguing anyways, I tend to enjoy movies with their warts and all, I mean, if they have some redeeming factors to them, and by the looks of your review, there are a couple of good moments in between the badness.
    Thanks for that review!

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  4. Hi, Francisco! I’m glad my review of Skyline intrigued you enough to give it a chance, even if it is on DVD.

    I never let negative reviews from mainstream critics keep me from going to the theater to see genre films; especially science fictions. The only sf films they like are generally the dark, depressing dramatic films and I prefer my sf heavy on action, adventure and entertainment!

    Unlike you, I enjoyed Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. Sure, it’s far from a perfect film, but the pacing is good (unlike Skyline), the characters are likeable and relatable (unlike Skyline) and the action sequences are not top-loaded at the end of the movie (unlike…. Well… you get the idea). I still don’t understand how you can “hate” AvP:R – or any film for that matter. I’ve seen some pretty terrible films in my many years as a film fan, and I can honestly say that I’ve never hated a film. I’ve disliked some films enough to be tempted to leave the theater (Saturn 3), been bored enough to almost fall asleep (Alone in the Dark), to actually fall asleep (too many to remember – thankfully all at home on cable or dvd) and thought they were so bad that I began laughing at them (Logan’s Run – yes, I know some people actually like this, but I’m not one of them). I do think as diehard film fans and amateur critics we tend to have an even stronger visceral reaction to films than your average movie goer. Still, I just can’t bring myself to hate a film no matter how much time or money I feel I’ve wasted on a putrid picture.

    I too hope because of the low budget that the Strauss Bros. will be able to finish the story they started with Skyline; although I’ll be very tempted to wait for it to be released on DVD/blue-ray, which may be its fate anyway.
    Thanks for your comments on my review of Skyline, Francisco! I always read your reviews on your blog The Film Connoisseur, even when I don’t post a comment.

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  5. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving my friend. All the best. SFF

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  6. great review Doc. Skyline certainly didn't come without its mistakes, but I do hope they do a sequel. I thought the ending was pretty clever

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  7. Dempsey, you and I are in the minority, but I agree that a sequel to Skyline is needed just to finish the story. You are one of the few people that were able to look past Skyline’s faults, to see that there was an actual interesting science fiction concept hidden beneath the many ruts in the road getting there. The ending was indeed “clever” in that the personality…

    *SPOILER ALERT*

    …of Jarrod remained intact after his brain was transplanted into the alien construct. I just wished they hadn’t ended the film at the exact point that they did. I think a better ending would have been for him to escape the alien vessel with Elaine and somehow communicated to her that he still retained his consciousness inside the alien device.

    Thanks for the words of support, Dempsey!

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  8. Your welcome Doc, at the end of the day Skyline did strive to be different than many other invasion movies. And like you said, hope they get to finish off their story and learn from some misatkes they made in the first which I think they will.

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  9. Hi Fritz, "Doc" Freakenstein,

    This is a great and thoughtful review of Skyline, a very problematic alien invasion movie. Like you, I feel that the characters are a big weak-point; and like you, I also feel that a sequel would be the only thing that would possibly make sense out of this movie's ending. And yet, you shouldn't need a sequel to make a movie's ending work.

    We differ a little on one point (as you noted on my blog). I feel it is the first act of Skyline that is the strongest, because it depends on "shock and awe" and delivers. We process the feelings of chaos and confusion that come with the arrival of the invasion. The special effects here are amazing, even if the performances, dialogue and writing are not.

    Anyway, it was great to read your fascinating perspective on the film. I like reviewers who are willing to look at a movie objectively, and judge what things work, even if other things fail. It's always good to name the positive amidst the negative, even if the final judgment is, alas, negative. In this way, we come to understand why you arrived at your conclusion; and get a good look at your thought process. Just speaking for me, these are the kind of reviews I am drawn to, and sympathize with.

    Best,
    JKM

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  10. Thank you for stopping by Guardians of the Genre to read my review of Skyline, John! I have been a fan of science fiction – both the written word and film – for… well, a long time. Because I consider myself a fan first and an amateur critic second, I use my reviews to promote the genre(s) that I love. Therefore, when I watch even a flawed film like Skyline I try to emphasis the positive aspects of that film in an effort to encourage my fellow fans to give these films a try and decide for themselves whether it is worth watching or not.

    I couldn’t agree with you more: you shouldn’t need a sequel to make a movie’s ending work. This should especially be true of the first film of a “potential” series. Every successful SF series started with an autonomous preliminary film. Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, The Matrix (hey, I liked the sequels), Terminator and Predator all started their franchises with strong initial features that told a self-contained story.

    As you say, we definitely disagree on the first act of Skyline. I honestly didn’t feel any of the “chaos and confusion that come with the arrival of the invasion” because of the shallow vapid characters that are reacting to these extraordinary events. If the POV characters had been even remotely interesting or relatable, these opening sequences would have played much more powerfully.

    Truly, thank you for the positive evaluation of my review of Skyline. I also prefer reviews, such as the ones on your blog JKM’s Reflections on Film/TV, that point out the merits and deficiencies of a film and how they combine to create either an overall excellent, pedestrian or inferior film. I am still attempting to develop a consistent reviewing style, but one constant motivation that I have in writing them has been to always find something to appreciate and enjoy about any film that I take the time to write about. I don’t get any pleasure out of trashing a bad film, or taking cheap shots at obviously lower budget movies.

    Thank you again for taking the time out to comment on my Skyline review, John!

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