Shout! Factory // 1996 // 860 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // January 7th, 2011
The truth can now be told.
"My name is John Loengard. I'm recording this because we may not live through the night. They're here, they're hostile, and powerful people don't want you to know about it. History as we know it is a lie."
John Loengard (Eric Close, The Sky is Falling) and Kim Sayers (Megan Ward, Joe's Apartment) are a fresh-faced young couple who just moved to Washington DC from California. John gets a job as a congressional aide and his first big assignment is assessing the budgets of some fringe programs. One, dubbed Project Blue Book, is the reporting agency for extraterrestrial phenomena. A skeptic, John goes to interview a couple who filed a recent report expecting to hear a bunch of bull about little green men, but Betty and Barney Hill tell a more compelling tale of alien abduction. He comes away unconvinced, ready to tell the senator that the program is a waste of money, when a helicopter runs him off the road. A team of suits jump out, rough him up, and instruct him on the contents of his coming report.
Now, he's not sure what to believe. With his idealism firmly in hand, he sets out to find answers. His investigation attracts the attention of powerful people and Loengard finds himself recruited into Majestic-12, a covert government agency led by Captain Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh, The Grifters) and tasked with the fight against alien invasion. All skepticism flies in the face of overwhelmingly frightening evidence and Loengard joins the secret war for the fate of humanity.
I caught a few of the middle episodes of Dark Skies during its second airing on the Sci-Fi channel. I liked what I saw, but didn't catch the pilot episode, so I was lost on many of the threads they presented. Now, seeing it from start to unfortunate finish, I can firmly declare that I have fallen madly in love with this show.
Dark Skies is about alien conspiracy like Mad Men is about advertising. While true that the plots focus on extraterrestrials and government cover-up, the charm of the show is in its setting and performers. The show is detailed in its treatment of the 1960s, with the costuming, set design, and musical direction all working together to paint a highly realistic picture of that tumultuous decade. I'm not that old, so I can't say whether the portrayal is completely accurate, but it feels really good. Moreover, the attention to detail dates the show in the Sixties, not the Nineties when it aired. Everything done the same, if the premiered today, Dark Skies would fit right in and work just as well.
This is helped in no small way by the performances, which are of a consistent level of quality and almost universally engrossing. Eric Close and Megan Ward, as the lead couple, have excellent chemistry together, which changes as they delve deeper and deeper into this dark conspiracy. Frank Bach is at the head of the conspiracy and, in the role, J.T. Walsh is the man. This guy knew how to play an authoritarian jerk better than almost anyone, but in one of his final roles, he takes that cold nastiness to a whole different level. This is some of the very best work of his career. Bach's relationship with Loengard is both adversarial and paternal (not altogether separate things, I suppose). It's fantastic to watch the two of them interact as the series goes on, as they slowly gain respect for each other and their individual positions regarding the "truth." At both the highest and lowest moments of the show, this remains consistently delicious. The performances, especially in the ways they grow along with the characters, completely make the series.
Truthfully, I didn't think that I was going to like the show that much. In general, I despise alternate history and didn't look at Dark Skies as anything but a corny alien show. At every turn, however, I found myself wholly engaged in the world. Every time I would wonder how they'd make something work, like claiming aliens were responsible for the Gulf of Tonkin incident and thus escalating the Vietnam War, I was without fail totally satisfied. Though they weren't renewed, there was a five year plan in place that would have taken us into the present day and beyond. How the series progressed, putting real historical figures into positions around the alien conspiracy, leaves us to speculate on what they could have done through the decades and how deep the secrecy went. A lot of very dramatic and disgusting things have happened since the finale's 1968 time frame, and it's a shame they didn't have the chance to mine those incidents; it would have been thrilling.
Shout! Factory has done amazing work with lesser-known television programs in the past and, while I'm simply ecstatic that the show is finally on DVD at all, this six-disc set is not their best. That's not to say that Dark Skies: The Declassified Complete Series is bad, because the set is loaded with extras, but technically, it doesn't represent their usual standard. The nineteen episodes are presented over the first five discs in full frame transfers. Mostly, the colors are bright and the black levels are deep, but there's a consistent interlacing in the image that makes me think these are transfers from PAL originals. The stereo sound is pretty solid, but there's nothing dramatic in the mix.
Aside from commentaries on the first and last episodes on their respective discs, the extras are all on Disc 6, and they're very good. We start with the international pilot, a completely different edit of the pilot that aired over here. It's an earlier cut that had to be scrapped because, among other reasons, there was a little movie called Men in Black being made at the same time. Dark Skies used the same terms for their officials, no matter that the term is as old as the alien conspiracy. If they didn't change the name and the color of the suits, the show would have been killed. Stupid that we now have unnamed Men in Tan, but these concessions allowed them to go back and reshoot a lot of things. The original pilot is very interesting, mostly to see what had changed, but the second effort is much stronger. The two commentaries, with the show creators, Eric Close, and Megan Ward, are as good as you'll hear. They're engaged and clearly proud of their work, but what gets me is Close's uncanny memory for details about very minor actors in the episodes. His knowledge, as well as the background information the creators deliver regarding the history of the conspiracy, make these quite valuable discussions. A solid hour-long making of featurette make for deeper discussion of the series and reality behind it. A glossary, with discussion and clips, give meaning to many of the commonly used terms, some real and some strictly part of the Dark Skies universe. A slew of network promos show us the varied way they marketed the show. Finally, we have two longer promos, one previous to the series premier and the other an attempt to market an updated second season to other network, have been deemed classified by Majestic, but luckily John Loengard is there to direct us how to see them because, of course, we have the right to know.
Dark Skies was a daring show, ahead of its time and a legal minefield. Do we believe that the show was canceled due to low ratings and a poor time slot? Or is the implication that Norman Schwartzkopf and Colin Powell achieved their high status by staying complicit in an alien conspiracy to blame? That's for you to decide, but just know you will seldom find a more exciting or better program than Dark Skies.
Review content copyright © 2011 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 860 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* International Pilot
* Episode Commentaries
* Promo Spots