Falling Skies, the new science fiction alien invasion drama, which premiered on TNT last Sunday night, is the latest in a number of alien invasion movies and TV programs to be released in the past year. Because of this, undoubtedly comparisons will be made to them, but I think Falling Skies thus far manages to put a slightly different spin on the sub-genre.
Alien invasion movies and TV shows have been done extensively since the early 50’s, so I don’t think there is any way to make it completely fresh or original. Going back to H. G. Wells’ original War of the Worlds, on which most modern alien invasion movies and TV shows are still modeled on, Wells used the Martians’ invasion of England as a metaphor for the U.K’s increasing anxiety towards the Europeans and the political tensions that eventually led to the First World War. Just as most of the alien invasion films and TV programs of the 1950s and 1960’s were metaphors for our fear of communism and the cold war in general. Without the fear of either a conventional world war or a worldwide nuclear war, I have to wonder why we are suddenly being inundated by both film and television stories of alien invasion? I believe that since the world wide terrorist attacks on major urban centers, which culminated on the destruction of the Twin Tower buildings in New York City and the loss of over two thousand lives in 2001, there has been an overall fear of sudden invasive attacks on our personal homes. Once again, science fiction affords itself to addressing these anxieties as metaphor; substituting the terrorists for aliens.
Falling Skies immediately separates itself from most alien invasion entertainments, by starting the series six months after the initial invasion. From a practical TV budget standpoint, it makes perfect sense, because you avoid the high cost of producing the large scale special effects to demonstrate the world wide invasion. From a story telling perspective, it lends itself to more intimate character studies and smaller scale physical confrontations – something TV does best – as well as create continuing storylines for multiple characters – something that TV series are tailor made for.
The first two hour pilot episode of Falling Skies tells the story of the result of an alien invasion that first neutralized the world's power grid and then destroyed the combined militaries of the world by focusing its superior technological weaponry on the major cities and population centers. It is inferred that over 90% of the human population is killed within a few days. The program centers on a group of survivors in Boston, who band together just to survive the indentured alien forces. The group calls itself The Second Massachusetts and is a militia lead by the remnants of military men and women who survived the initial invasion.
The main character of Falling Skies is Tom Mason, who being a former university professor of history, is more educated than most heroes. However, he is stuck with the cliché of being a widower looking after his sons alone and also trying to deal with the difficulty of being second in command of his militia unit, as well as looking for one of his sons who has been captured by the aliens. Ann Glass, a pediatrician and strong – but not male-like – female character, seems to be more than just friends with Tom, and may become more of a permanent part of his extended family. In typical modern fiction, the most interesting character thus far is John Pope (which is a terrible name) who is a former gang-leader and natural anarchist and now appears to have been coerced into joining the militia. Each one of these characters represents an archetype: the military leader, the civilian philanthropist and the rebellious outsider.
I’m not too pleased with the start of the first episode as it begins with the group retreating away from Boston for the safer environs of the suburbs. But from the preview of the second episode, it looks like that may be changing for the better. I like the fact that we see at least two examples of the aliens: The Walkers (two-legged robots) and Skitters (multi-limbed insect-like creatures). We’ve also seen that the robots are not of a similar design as the alien skitters and can speculate that the aliens in the motherships may be of a different design altogether. The children are seen being taken as slaves by the aliens and fitted with mind-controlling bio-tech harnesses for reasons unknown, but which seems to indicate a pattern to the aliens’ invasion methods.
The sci-fi tech and world building on Falling Skies is thus far fairly impressive and the promise of more background information being revealed soon will keep me interested for some time. However, like all television series, the success of Falling Skies will ultimately fall on whether we like and empathize with the various characters. So far, I’m finding myself pulling for most of them and I’ll be tuning in again next Sunday night to find out what happens next.