Monday, March 28, 2011

DVD Review - Skyline

The Film

In 2010, two ultra low-budget films attempted to make an impact in the usually big-budget world of science-fiction. One of these films was Gareth Edwards' Monsters, which suggested its young director as a potential heir to Steven Spielberg; the other was Skyline, which seemed to herald the arrival of the successors to Roland Emmerich. The filmmakers behind this ambitious but fatally flawed picture are the Strause brothers, Colin and Greg, who made their directorial debut with 2007's Alien vs. Predator and are here making their first feature from scratch. The entire film was put together for a reported budget in the region of $10 million – and that in itself is a commendable feat – but it means nothing when the film is worthless at the level of story and character.

Frustratingly, it starts rather well. The opening scene sees mysterious lights being dropped onto Los Angeles as the city sleeps, and the film's central characters are awoken by the bright glare shining through their windows. They are attracted to this phenomenon like moths to a flame, with purple marks appearing around their eyes as they are drawn inexorably forward. This is the alien invaders' modus operandi; to bewitch humans with a dazzling light show before sucking them into the mothership and devouring their brains. Unfortunately, this opening scene is as interesting as Skyline ever gets.

The Strause brothers have a background in visual effects and their depiction of a large-scale alien invasion is certainly impressive in its scope, if not its imagination. A number of sequences feel lifted wholesale from Independence Day, War of the Worlds and others, while the invading force itself is poorly defined. The mothership appears to house a whole army of smaller ships, or it in itself consists of these ships – it's hard to know for sure, and all that's certain is that this alien race appears to be indestructible as it devastates the human race. However, for all of their incredible power, they have a devil of a time breaking into one guy's apartment, which is where Skyline's central group of characters is holed up.

Skyline's narrative has myriad flaws, but its biggest obstacle is that most of the action takes place within a single apartment block. While the action rages outside we are forced to spend time with a group of people who, to be blunt, are not worth spending time with. The performances from Eric Balfour and Scottie Thompson (as a couple expecting a child), Donald Faison (as Balfour's wealthy friend) and David Zayas (as the building superintendent) are stiff at best, and the dialogue they are forced to spout is woeful, with one clich̩ after another falling pathetically from the actors' lips. All in all, it's a crushing bore, with one character after another being subjected to a predictable demise while we wait for the main couple to make a defiant last stand Рbut as I started to doze in front of Skyline, the ending suddenly roused me from my stupor. In its final couple of minutes, Skyline, for the very first time, shoots off in an unexpected direction for a senseless and rather insane climax that is enjoyable purely for its sheer strangeness. Skyline appears to consider itself a prequel for a much more ambitious and interesting movie, but by the time the film shows some signs of life, the damage has already been done.

The Extras

Stop saying "literally"! That was my initial reaction to the Strause brothers' commentary track, but grammatical irritations aside, they're actually an interesting pair to listen to. They're clearly proud of their film and blind to its flaws, but I enjoyed hearing them talk about how they negotiated the problems imposed on them by the tiny budget, and sharing anecdotes from the shoot, which took place in one of the brothers' apartment. They're a likable pair and they almost endeared me to the film through their enthusiasm. A second commentary track (which I haven't listened to) is offered by co-writers Liam O'Donnell and Joshua Cordes, while there are some deleted/alternate scenes that don't add much to the movie and a fun pre-visualisation clip that allows the directors to explain how they planned some of the most complex visual effects sequences in the film.

Skyline is out on DVD and Blu-ray now

Buy Skyline here