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Skyline (2010)
Director: Colin and Greg Strause

review by J.C. Hartley

"They're not dead. They're just really, really pissed off!" This film starts with blue lights falling onto the city from an evening sky. The light wakes up a young woman, she wakes her partner, and when he goes to investigate, the light seems to draw him while seemingly pulling the life-force from him so that his flesh bruises and sears. Cue titles, then '15 hours earlier'.

A lot of films are doing this 'sometime earlier' thing apparently. So 15 hours earlier Jarrod (Eric Balfour, The Spirit) - what kind of name is that? I spent the whole picture thinking he was called Jerry! - who is maybe some kind of artist or something, and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson, Star Trek), arrive in LA (apparently) by plane to meet Jarrod's old friend Terry (Donald Faison, the black guy out of Scrubs). Terry may be going to offer Jarrod a job, but I'm damned if I could work out what any of these people do for a living; maybe that was deliberate.

Terry throws a birthday party with his rather hard-faced girlfriend Candace and his assistant Denise who he is obviously screwing, and a load of other people. The concierge Oliver (David Zayas, The Expendables) calls by to ask them to put a lid on it. Terry has a telescope hooked up to his TV so they can spy on other buildings; this is significantly later on as it allows them to watch the Independence Day style dogfight outside (aw, shucks, spoiler!). Elaine and Jarrod have a bit of a domestic and Elaine reveals she is pregnant.

Cut to later on and the start of the movie. One of the party guests is sucked into the blue light, but Terry saves Jarrod. Jarrod develops bruising and strange marks on his skin after a second exposure to the light. Terry, Candace, Denise, Jarrod, and Elaine, observe alien spaceships drop out of the sky and proceed to hoover up the population. Their attempt to escape the building ends in disaster and a genuinely startling moment, as in I never saw that coming! An attack by a smaller squid-like entity reveals that the aliens are part organic and part machine, and that their purpose seems to be to harvest human brains to power themselves. Oliver the concierge joins the depleted group and they variously agonise over whether they should leave the building. Jarrod reveals that his experience with the light made him feel powerful and that he still has that feeling.

The air force arrives and a stealth bomber showing an aerobatic ability that frankly surprised me (it's a drone) launches a nuke at one of the mother-ships. Unlike Independence Day, this downs the bugger and for an incredulous moment you think 'is that going to be it?' but the directors are just having fun with ya. Despite the considerable damage and fallout one would have expected, most of the buildings still survive, and although Jarrod mentions radiation no one's skin is exactly dropping off their bones. Jarrod and Elaine make one more break for freedom.

Well, we're in H.G. Wells country again. The beauty of Wells' The War Of The Worlds is that the hero, such as he is, is a witness to history, impotent, harried, a little man like the rest of us, who may speculate but is powerless to play a greater part. The powerlessness of the characters in Skyline comes across very well for the major part of the film. Against a technologically more powerful foe, you just can't see how the world can survive, let alone our heroes. Sadly, it's frankly impossible to care about our protagonists beyond not really wanting to see them have their brains sucked out. Of course, this being Hollywood and all, the individual does find he can make a difference but perhaps not in a way you would have expected.

A lot of derivative stuff as you would expect. The air-battle is straight out of Independence Day, perhaps deliberately so. The squid things are from the attack on Zion in The Matrix films. One particular creature reminds me of those Chris Foss designs for paperback SF, and the final images from the film remind me of something, maybe from a comic, but I'm damned if I know what. There's a One Million BC (aka: Man And His Mate) feel to it, curiously enough.

The effects are pretty spectacular. It would be nice if superhero movies operated on this sort of massive scale. 'Thor' would look awesome. There are ideas here, although brain-sucking is a bit old. The ending is unexpected and unexplained which is always a good thing. The first 15 minutes which introduces the characters is very dull, however essential it is; and much of the dialogue is trite. I didn't like anyone enough in this movie. There are some daft bits. I would have liked to hear the direction for Jarrod tearing the alien to bits, 'OK, you've lost the remote down the sofa, it's 30 seconds to the big game on TV, now rip that mutha apart!'

The Strause brothers made Alien vs. Predator: Requiem which got lousy reviews, at least until the later Predators movie came out. They said that Skyline was their answer to the critics, to show what they could do with full control. Well. Sony is suing them because while they were making this, their special effects company was doing the CGI for Sony's forthcoming World Invasion: Battle LA. This is probably a good film to watch on a Saturday night when you're half-cut, although it's a bit gooey in parts; I watched it on a Thursday afternoon when my critical faculties are at their peak. With better writers the Strause brothers might make a terrific film, one day.

Skyline



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