In the 50’s, genre films that were shot on a budget were all the rage. In the US, to cope with the boom in drive in theatres, studios churned out movies with simple plots, stock themes and reliable shock effects to satisfy punters more interested in copping a feel rather than character development. Let’s not mess about. Most of these films were crap.
Alien invasions were a popular staple of the genre, tapping as they did into Cold War hysteria and the feeling that dirty Commies were lurking in the laundry basket and about to take over. Amongst much of the B-movie dross a few classics did emerge. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It Came From Outer Space and War of The Worlds are enduring examples of the genre.
I’m waffling on about B-movies because that is broadly what Skyline is: a pedestrian retread on War of Worlds with added effects. Aliens descend from the heavens and try to take over the planet using a strange light that transforms the populace into zombies which they then proceed to gobble up.
You’ve seen this scenario played out with more thought, wit and panache a million times already. Despite the fact that whole scenes are practically ripped from War of The Worlds the film is neither scary, funny or remotely thought provoking. Emphasis has undoubtedly been placed on the smorgasbord of special effects yet the aliens look fake, poorly designed and are unconvincing.
The whole film has a “straight to DVD” quality about it like an X-files spin off. To cover up the entertainment vacuum the directors have used the piles of CGI like a budget fast food joint would use melted plastic cheese to mask the flavour of your three day old donkey burger.
I was utterly disinterested in the whole sorry affair and struggled to write even a single page of notes. Fortunately I was jerked out of my torpor as an army helicopter hovered into view. Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) are holed up in an up-market apartment complex but with aliens closing in decide to take their chances and hail down the passing chopper from the rooftop.
As it approaches a large alien climbs up the side of the building and shoots two sticky tentacles from its claws onto the chopper’s chassis. There is a short tug of war until the chopper succeeds in overpowering the alien with a volley of gunfire. The problem is that as the alien tumbles off the side of the building it drags the chopper down with it. The chopper is pulled into the glass and concrete and goes up in flame, its rotor blades spinning off and wedging just above the heads of our protagonists. Shot from the ground the rest of the fiery debris plummets to earth and crashes through a glass foyer.
The set piece is competently executed and I liked the way the shell of the helicopter comes straight at the camera from above, adding to its impact.
Exploding helicopter innovation
As a mostly innovation free film it comes as a surprise that destruction of a chopper is executed in this unconventional manner. Until a giant chameleon sticks out its tongue and brings down a helicopter this will remain a unique set-piece.
Do passengers survive?
Rule 1 of the helicopters pilot’s character arc. If you haven’t got any lines and you tangle with a bad guy you will end up as slightly charred worm food.
Apart from the helicopter explosion there is absolutely no need to watch this film.
Where do I start?
A no mark cast of actors are understandably unable to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Donald Faison (Turk in Scrubs) pops up as rapper Terry and is mercifully dispatched half way through the film before he can tarnish his resume any further. David Zayas (who you might recognise as latino gang leader in prison drama Oz) plays a strangely aggressive concierge who has some awful lines “Vaya con Dios, you son of a bitch”. He decides to turn on the gas and light himself up when the aliens coming calling. After watching this turkey you might want to do the same.
Despite being an effects driven movie nothing much interesting seems to happen for the bulk of the film. The dialogue is flat and as most of the film is shot in the confines of an apartment block, with the aliens mostly outside, there are swathes of the film that are just plain dull. The film misfires on almost every level. A one location shoot is not a barrier to a good film. Phone Booth, 127 Hours and Glengarry Glenross show movies with smart dialogue can use their restrictive environments to ratchet up the tension. The directors could have tried to show a siege mentally or show evidence of cabin fever but all of this is overlooked for more clunky looking aliens floating about outside.
No exploration of the wider themes of interest like the public reaction to an alien invasion, possibilities for anarchy or why the aliens are even here in the first place. No allegories to the modern ills of commercialism, secularism or politics are discussed let alone contemplated. Perhaps I’m expecting too much.
To top it off the ending is complete and utter baloney. The aliens use human brains as fuel and when Jarrod is captured and his brain harvested he amazingly has the power to control the alien his brain is inserted into. None one else has this ability. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO F*CKING EXPLANATION FOR HIS SPECIAL POWER! It comes apropos of nothing. Just accept this important plot point like the moron the directors expect you to be. Favourite Quote:
(As the aliens revive themselves after being blasted by a rocket)
Jarrod: “They’re not dead. They’re just really p*ssed off!”
A special mention should go to directors The Brothers Strause. They have a background in effects work having been involved on the visuals to the Fantastic Four, The Day After Tomorrow and Terminator 3. They then moved into directing having been responsible for the sh*tfest that was Alien v Predator: Requiem. They have an unenviable record of making routinely bad films.
Out of the $20m this cost to make (chicken feed by today’s mega-budget standards) only 2.5% of the budget went on physical production. The vast majority went on the effects costs. Despite the thoroughly negative reviews the film made over $78m at the box office and you will probably see a sequel as a result. It goes to show the movie going public are mostly made up of f*cking idiots.