If nothing else, the brothers Strause should be commended for their sheer audacity. Despite a comparatively tiny budget, they’ve attempted to make an alien invasion movie on the scale of Independence Day.
After the debacle that was Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem, it’s fair to say that expectations were fairly low for Skyline. That is, until the first trailers appeared, which displayed a few neat visual ideas that suggested that their independently made sci-fi movie might be worth watching after all.
In a film that cost less than $500,000 to produce (the rest of the movie’s $10-20 million budget was blown on computer effects), it’s unsurprising that Skyline finds novel ways to keep costs down. Its handful of characters spend much of the film hiding in a flat, viewing the unfolding invasion through blinds, on the television, or through a telescope.
And while the extensive use of CG helps to give the film a greater sense of scale, the actual plot and number of physical locations couldn’t be much smaller. Hung over after a wild party in a penthouse apartment, Jarrod (played by 24’s Eric Balfour), his pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) and his best friend Terry (Scrubs’ Donald Faison) are woken up by mysterious blue lights emanating from the sky.
In what may be an oblique reference to John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids, the aliens’ blue lights have a strange, mesmerising effect on anyone who sets eyes on them, causing their flesh to erupt with varicose veins, and their eyes to glaze over. An unfortunate partygoer (Neil Hopkins) is the first to succumb, and after a few moments’ exposure to the light, he’s whisked away by the evil invaders.
From their vantage point at the top of the building, Jarrod and his friends watch as vast alien machines begin hoovering up the hypnotised masses of LA like autumn leaves. And, as the invaders close in around them, they have to decide whether to stay hidden among the luxury fittings of the apartment, or take their chances and run for the hills.
As they’ve already demonstrated, the brothers Strause have a genuinely good eye for visual effects, and while there are moments in Skyline where the lack of funds is blatantly obvious (to keep down costs, their building appears to be impervious to any kind of expensive-to-repair damage), the film’s CG is occasionally on a par with far bigger-budget productions.
It’s sad, then, that Skyline’s human element hasn’t been given the same attention as its special effects. Characters are poorly drawn and often unsympathetic, and the script is forgettable at best.
There are some rather neat creature designs, courtesy of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., but these are also let down by the film’s muddled writing. Among all the devastation, explosions and goo, we eventually learn exactly why the aliens have flown light-years to Earth, and it’s a motivation lifted straight from the very ripest of 50s B-movie cheese.
Viewed in this regard, Skyline is actually quite good fun in places, and there are some laughs to be had as the film’s dumb characters attempt to keep one step ahead of the aliens’ marauding tentacles.
But then, just as the movie reaches what you might think is the next, absurdly over-the-top act, it ends. To go into too much detail would spoil the surprise, but it’s the kind of denouement that audiences will find either faintly amusing or utterly infuriating.
As risible as the ending is, Skyline’s biggest problem is its flat characters and tedious dialogue. Most are mere alien fodder, and the film’s leads, Balfour and Thompson, display little charisma or chemistry.
It’s as though the brothers Strause are hoping their visual effects will have the same impact on audiences as the blue lights do on the citizens of LA – that we’ll be so mesmerised by the pretty patterns, that we’ll overlook the fact that Skyline’s characters have all the presence of kitchen units.
For lovers of B-movie sci-fi, there are perhaps enough slithering aliens, cool baroque space ships and ripe pieces of dialogue (one character even shrieks, “He’s Alive!!” in a manner James Whale would have enjoyed) to justify the price of admission.
Had the brothers Strause been as adept at storytelling as they are at creating luminous effects, Skyline could have been genuinely thrilling. Instead, it’s a mildly diverting, mediocre sci-fi mash-up with one of the most bizarrely abrupt endings in recent memory. Disappointing.
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