Skyline: what went wrong, and what’s with the ending?

Major spoilers ahead, as Ryan laments the missed opportunity that Skyline represented. And whose idea was that ending...?

Warning: this article contains major spoilers. If you don’t want the ending to Skyline ruined, read no further!

Imagine you’re an extra-terrestrial. Your kind has created ships that can cross the vast oceans of space, that are advanced enough to repair themselves even after suffering catastrophic damage.

You have the intelligence to build a special glowing laser that hypnotises entire cities of humans, and construct a kind of colossal vacuum cleaner that is capable of stripping a sprawling metropolis of its population.

You have all this technology, and yet for some reason you use it to collect human brains.

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Now imagine you’re the brothers Strause. Your reputation has taken a bit of a kicking after the debacle that was Aliens Vs Predator – Requiem, a film that succeeded in sullying two much-loved franchises at the same time, and enraged an entire planet’s worth of film-obsessed geeks.

Somehow, you manage to get the funds together to create an alien invasion movie outside the interference of the Hollywood system. It’s your opportunity to redeem yourself, to prove to the world that you can direct an effective, entertaining science fiction movie competently, and on a shoe-string budget.

These two disparate scenarios come together in Skyline, a film that, despite the cautious optimism its marketing invoked, proves to be one of the most strange, unintentionally funny films to appear this year.

Skyline is so bizarre, in fact, that I’ve taken the slightly odd step of writing about it twice. Since I wrote my review on Friday, which I deliberately kept as spoiler-free as I could, the film’s been quietly percolating in my mind, like the image of Devils Tower that haunts Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

I’ve been moaning about Skyline to anyone who will listen ever since. I’ve sculpted a model of a human brain out of mashed potato. I’ve driven my girlfriend to distraction with my endless complaints about the film’s continuity errors and baffling logic.

What’s so frustrating about Skyline is that it’s not an irredeemably bad film. The aliens are quite fascinating, even if the influences of Independence Day, Cloverfield and numerous other sci-fi staples are all too obvious. Their ships are either vast and baroque, or small and squid-like, hurtling around with their eerie blue lights on full beam.

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The effects are sometimes very good, particularly when one considers the film’s low-budget status. There are clouds of floating humans, an aerial dogfight, a nuclear bomb and a big monster that hates Ferraris.

Then there’s everything else. The unsympathetic characters. The flat, perfunctory script that fritters away any feeling of tension with pointless arguments and the kind of relationship issues you’d turn off Hollyoaks to avoid. In fact, Skyline is essentially Hollyoaks with aliens. And Hoovers.

Then there’s the plot, which literally goes nowhere. Skyline‘s characters spend hours hiding from the invasion under a coffee table in their flat. Then they pluck up the courage to go upstairs for a better look. They get scared, and scurry back to the apartment.

Later, they go downstairs. Frightened, they head back to the flat again. Then they go upstairs, where they’re finally captured in a blaze of light. The credits roll a few minutes thereafter.

It’s fortunate that Skyline was made outside the Hollywood studio system, since most Tinsel Town producers would have read the script, held it up to the light, and then set fire to it. Or at least, ordered a second draft.

That a nuclear bomb can go off without even cracking a window of the apartment building in which Skyline is set is (just about) forgiveable. That Skyline‘s directors had to find creative ways of keeping the scope of the film small is understandable, given their lack of funds.

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But to have such a dramatically static plot, where characters essentially run on the spot until they’re killed, seemingly at random, is a serious flaw.

Then there are the bizarre motivations of the aliens mentioned earlier. So mysterious and unsettling early on (the question of what the aliens want with approximately 3.69 million Californians is a brilliantly provocative little mystery), it’s revealed these highly evolved beings are only after one thing: juicy human brains.

Even now, I’m still at a loss to explain what they need them for. I thought at first that they simply ate them, but it later turns out that they use them as an energy source, as they did in The Matrix. The lack of logic behind this idea makes my eyes water (why would aliens need human brains for energy?), and seems to serve no purpose other than to justify Skyline‘s alarmingly left-field ending.

Ah yes, the ending. I still haven’t worked out whether it’s audacious or simply inept. In either case, it’s hilarious, and hints at a sequel, or at least a spin-off videogame.

Skyline’s bickering couple, Jarrod and Elaine (Eric Balfour and Scotty Thompson, respectively), having spent an hour-and-a-half hidden from the aliens, are finally beamed aboard the invaders’ mothership. And as Elaine lies prone and gooey on the deck of the alien craft, Jarrod’s brain is unceremoniously torn from his skull, his body thrown onto a heap of other human corpses.

But wait! Just as it appears that all is lost, and that the pregnant Elaine is doomed to suffer a hideous fate at the hands of her captors, Jarrod’s brain is inserted into the cranium of a dormant xenomorph. Springing to life, the alien approaches Elaine, and lays a tender hand on her face. Jarrod’s consciousness has, remarkably, lived on in this other lifeform…

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As the closing credits roll to the cacophony of rock guitar, the alien/Jarrod fusion is shown (in glorious freeze frame) pummelling the ship’s invaders into jelly, before carrying off Elaine in what is surely an homage to the Swamp Thing.It’s undoubtedly the strangest and most abrupt ending of the year. Quite apart from its dream-like absence of logic, the film ends just as you’re expecting some sort of huge fight scene. If you can imagine James Cameron’s Aliens concluding with Ripley jumping in her Loader and shouting “Get away from her, you bitch!”, you’ll perhaps understand what I mean.

In the pub over the weekend, I began formulating my own alternate endings for Skyline. It could have transpired that the aliens were anthropologists, collecting human specimens for some sort of planet-wide biological survey. Or the aliens could have been truffle hunters, who collect and sell human brains for restaurants at the end of the universe.

Or maybe the whole movie could have been an extended advert for co-director Greg Strause’s flat (which served as the location for the entire film), with its expansive views and electronic blinds. As Skyline‘s final two characters were taken aboard the alien craft, the film could have ended on a final lingering shot of the empty, suspiciously unmarked apartment, together with the words, “Luxurious LA penthouse. Spectacular views. $5 million or near offer.”

Any of these endings would have made more sense than the one I saw at the cinema.

As bile filled as all this sounds, I didn’t hate Skyline. Unlike, say, Resident Evil: Afterlife, or The Last Airbender, I’d happily watch Skyline again, if only to enjoy the creature designs and moments of unintended humour. There are parts of it that are quite memorable, including a gloriously icky alien versus fire axe scene, a woman shrieking “He’s alive!”, and the ending really sticks on the mind, though perhaps not for the reasons Skyline’s creators meant.

In fact, I almost hope the brothers Strause get to make the sequel that Skyline’s ending so obviously sets up. So far as I can work out, it would entail the Jarrod/alien thing single-handedly repelling the invasion with his gigantic fists. If it turns out like Skyline, it’ll be hilarious.

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I write this, then, out of bemusement rather than hatred. Somewhere in Skyline‘s broken script and lifeless characters, there’s a quite interesting movie trapped under the rubble. It’s a film of occasionally startling images and neat ideas – the big glowing ships that self repair, the giant man Hoovers – and with a rewritten script and a decent director who could let the brothers Strause concentrate on making cool effects, it could have been a brilliant little film.

Instead, it’s brilliantly awful. And like the aliens themselves, in desperate need of a brain.

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