In defence of Skyline

The Brothers Strause’s second movie, Skyline, was savaged on its original release. As Simon checks out the Blu-ray, though, he wonders if it might just deserve a second chance…

This article contains spoilers.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I sat down to watch the Blu-ray of Skyline, short of that it wasn’t very much at all. The response to the film had been fairly savage on its cinematic release, and there also seemed to be little division on the directorial abilities of The Brothers Strause. In short, expectations were accordingly set to low.

And I think that may have helped. Because, as the credits rolled at the end of the film, I sat back and came to many of the same conclusions as, I suspect, many of you did. It was nonsensical. It was derivative. It was a narrative muddle. The ending was bizarre.

But on top of that? I really quite enjoyed it.

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I’m loathed to subscribe to the notion of guilty pleasure, because I figure if I enjoy something, I enjoy it. Instead, then, I’ll just say that, as a piece of entertainment, and perhaps in spite of its flaws, I got more fun out of Skyline than I was expecting.

I was one of the many who found no smidgeon of entertainment in the debut directorial effort of The Brothers Strause, Aliens Vs Predator – Requiem. For me, it was a demonstration of everything that can go wrong when you let the effects guys sit in the director’s chair. Astonishingly badly lit for one, all the effort in the film seemingly went into realising special effects on a low-ish budget. There’s no script of note, quite terrible direction, and, most crucially of all, a complete absence of entertainment. That’s surely the biggest crime that a film can commit. That it firmly shat on two franchises I genuinely care about didn’t help, either.

Skyline, however, managed to somehow cobble sufficient entertainment together. And while The Brothers Strause are no movie directors of note, they’ve clearly learned a few lessons from the savaging that AvP2 received.

For starters, we can see what’s going on here. Not just in the fact that there’s lots of light this time (an abundance of light, as it happens), but also in that the film’s special effects move at a speed at which you can absorb them. Contrast that with the fast-moving Transformers of a Michael Bay movie, and I’d take Skyline anytime. Here, you can see what’s going on, and I, for one, appreciate that.

And credit where credit’s due, too. The effects in Skyline are terrific. Only once or twice do they betray the low budget that the film was working to. The film looks far more expensive that its $20m price, and even in close-up, the alien invaders look really quite impressive.

I’ll go further. Some of the sequences of the big ship approaching, and the sky-based battles are really exceptionally good. If I’d have been asked to judge the price of the film on effects alone, I’d put it in the $80-100m mark. And it’s to the credit of the Brothers Strause that they use their visual effects background to stretch the budget so far.

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Of course, the other side of the entertainment coin where Skyline is concerned is just how the rest of the film fails to match the visual spectacle. The logic gaps alone are astounding. A penthouse apartment, that’s on a corridor of other rooms, with the obligatory old man with a dog living next door? It hardly screams luxury. The fact that the aliens find time to hunt people down in a car park, completely in contrast to their actions earlier in the film?

Also, there’s no getting away from it: the back third of the film is a bizarre, jaw-dropping mess. It’s car crash cinema by the time we get to that point.

The structure of the movie appears to be that of an unimaginative videogame, where, when you defeat the small alien, it sends a bigger one. Once that’s beaten, it’s a bigger one still. By the time the massive creature is climbing buildings near the end, I was crying into my beer at how ridiculous it had all become.

To be fair, the film was wise not to focus too closely on its characters at this point, given that they hit the usual stereotypes, and not very well. Instead, it was a case of ‘let’s throw more shit at the screen’. That tactic can’t fill an entire film, though, and so it proved. And thus, even at 90 minutes, Skyline was outstaying its welcome.

But it had a trump card up its sleeve, with perhaps the most bizarre, illogical and shitty tacked on ending I’ve seen in years. For 85 minutes, swathes of unbeatable aliens had crushed mankind in two days flat, with the might of the planet only mustering three soldiers and some fancy planes by way of response. So, what could these creatures be looking for in the midst of our planet, that they managed to conquer so easily?

Er, our brains. They wanted to suck the brains out of our heads, to plug into some more special effects. And, it seems, to allow their heads to glow red instead of blue. The three letters ‘WTF’ have rarely been more appropriately deployed.

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Brilliantly, this led to a supposedly tender moment, where the big special effects creature was being all tender to his pregnant girlfriend. Even the most serious of viewers by this point would surely have been guffawing, if they hadn’t either a) turned the film off, or b) headed off to the Internet to complain. It’s a pretty much indefensibly bad ending by any narrative standard.

But still, warts and all, I still found a good chunk of entertainment here.

Skyline, to be clear, is not a very good movie. The script is poor, there’s no human character’s name I could remember even while the film was running, let alone after it. And the direction outside of the visual effects? Well, it’s really not great at all, is it?

There’s a reason, I’ve always thought, why people are experts in different fields. A person who makes the shiniest, loveliest saucepans in the world is never going to be the one you want to make you a special dinner. In the case of the Brothers Strause, if I was making a movie that relied on special effects, for which I had a limited budget, they’d be the first people I call. Heck, if I ran a movie studio and wanted a low budget effects movie with box office potential, they’d probably be on speed dial, too. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that they’d be nobody’s first choice to direct any kind of movie that you really care about.

Skyline, though? Every criticism of the movie that I’ve read seems bang on the money from where I’m sitting. But for 90 minutes of brainless, unambitious fun? It someone still worked for me. Reading some of the reaction online, though, I sense I may be alone…

Skyline is on Blu-ray now.

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