The last time Judge Patrick Naugle looked up, he tripped over his own two feet.
Our review of Skyline, published March 18th, 2011, is also available.
Don't Look Up.
It wouldn't be the changing of a season without at least one movie about alien invaders coming down from the heavens to wipe us pesky humans off the map (which makes me sad for the day when aliens finally do come to our planet—they'll completely kill the genre). Universal's stab at the end of the world comes in the form of the PG-13 rated Skyline, made by the same duo who brought us the nearly incoherent sequel to a sequel Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.
Facts of the Case
Welcome to the end of humanity as we know it. Jarrod (Eric Balfour, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) and his wife Elaine (Scottie Thompson, NCIS) have come to Los Angeles for a visit with Jarrod's newly successful best friend Terry (Donald Faison, Scrubs). One morning the two friends and their significant others awake to a blindingly bright blue light emanating from outside Terry's apartment. This light hypnotizes anyone foolish enough to stare into it and sucks them away like a kid slurping up spilled Coke off a countertop. What is this mysterious blue glow? Aliens, of course! Yes, big fat slippery slobbery gooey terrifying big eyed aliens from afar here to extract your brains out and decimate earth's population. Jarrod and his friends are now on the run and trying to figure out a way out of L.A. before becoming another in a long line of intergalactic snack foods!
I read the negative reviews for Skyline and saw it had an abysmal aggregator score on Rotten Tomatoes (under 20% of the critics liked it). So, I braced for the worst—incoherent plot details, terrible characters and shoddy special effects. I was preparing for a full scale Battlefield Earth-type review. My expectations were set so low I figured if the opening credits held my attention I'd at least have one positive thing to muse about in my review.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Skyline, while not great, is an above average alien invasion action flick that entertains and is even, at times, thrilling and involving. I'm a bit baffled as to why the critics were so harsh on this film—considering its meager budget (around $10 million dollars), the Brothers Strause have served up an old fashioned, B-grade slice of sci-fi fun. So what if the screenplay has holes it in big enough to drive the Millennium Falcon through and still have room to squeeze in a few Death Stars? At the end of the day the movie has some impressive effects, an engaging story (most of the time) and enough brain sucking to sink a battleship called the "S.S. George Romero."
I feel as if whatever I was looking to get out of Skyline, I got—in spades. A lot of criticism about the film is that it liberally cribs from vastly superior movies—War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow (to name a scant few). To this I say: big whoop. If a filmmaker is going to copy a lot of the same beats and ideas from other movies the least they can do for the viewer is make it entertaining. The Strause Brothers have crafted a movie that engages the senses just enough to keep you sitting through to the ludicrously awful finale (more on that below).
The titular aliens—and let's be honest, this is why you're even sitting through this movie to begin with—aren't anything overtly special. They appear to be a mash up of a lot of other famous movie monsters and video game stage bosses—mushy brown with glowing eyes, icky tentacles and sharp claws. This in turn makes me wonder if we'll ever get to see a movie where the aliens are the nerds of the universe—how awesome would it be to see our planet ravaged by a monster carrying pocket protectors and taped eye glasses? But I digress.
The cast features B-level talent that are clearly hoping and praying someday to become A-level superstars. Eric Balfour (who appears to be the offspring of Sarah Jessica Parker and a long wooden pirate ship plank) spends most of the movie looking deathly pensive as he tries to outrun the terrestrial baddies. Donald Faison—whose stint on the underrated TV show Scrubs has apparently afforded him no clout in the film department—plays a man who's struck it rich but is losing his girlfriend (an attractive but wooden Britney Daniels). The rest of the cast is, as they say, fodder for the beasties. Look, what are you going to see a movie like Skyline for…deep characterization? Pfft. In a movie like this I'm happy enough to have people hang around onscreen just long enough to be gobbled up like people flavored Pez candy.
Now, I know what is sticking the craw of most critics and agree: the ending to the film—the final 2 minutes—is not only laughable but also deeply flawed and never given a proper explanation. The film ends with Eric Balfour's character getting his brain sucked from his head while his body is discarded down the alien ship's disposal chute. Before it's placed inside of one of the aliens it's shown glowing bright red (not blue, like the rest of the human brains) which makes it clear that the Balfour character has retained his original memory and thoughts. The final closing credits show stills of the Balfour/alien fighting for his woman's honor against the other aliens. Aside of a few moments where Balfour's character seems to be 'changing', the film never gives any hint that this is where things are going to end up. Frankly, if one of the aliens had pulled a zipper down the front of its chest and out walked Ronald McDonald, I would have been less surprised than the way the film ends now.
Aside of that clunker of an ending (and truth be told, it is a doozy), Skyline delivers a lot of the goods you want in a disaster movie: people meet their maker in horrible ways. Cities are laid to waste. Giant aliens with an appetite for human flesh roam the countryside smashing and eating everything in their path. That's all I was looking for in Skyline, and that's all I got. Case closed.
Universal has done a great job at making sure this hi-def transfer looks sparkling and impressive. The 2.40:1 1080p widescreen image sports vibrant colors and solid black levels. The blue glowing hues the aliens give off looks excellent during the film and the effects are rendered with startlingly realism. Overall I have to give mad props (sorry, I really wanted to use the phrase 'mad props' in a review just once before I die) to Universal for how good this image looks.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English, French and Spanish. Like the video transfer, this audio mix gets a glowing review—the mix is peppered liberally with tons of surround effects and deep bass (especially during the last half hour). This is a soundtrack that is immersive and bombastic, making for a riveting and fun movie going experience. Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Fans of the film will be thrilled with some of the extra features included on this disc. To start with there is a commentary track by directors Greg Strause and Colin Strause defending their masterpiece against the critics and the masses. The commentary is a bit heavy on the technical side of things (where the brothers really shine), but it's an interesting listen if you want to know more about the film's origins and production. A second audio commentary with writers Liam O'Donnell and Joshua Cordes finds the screenwriters discussing the story aspects of the film and their thoughts on the critics panning it. Next up are some alternate and deleted/extended scenes (with optional commentary) that run a combined ten minutes long (none of them would have added much to the proceedings). Finally there is a pre-visualization (also with commentary), teaser and theatrical trailers (with commentary!!!), some BD-Live features and book marking features.
I liked Skyline for what it is: a flawed but fun alien invasion movie that allows viewers to check their brains at the door (or have them sucked out by drooling aliens—your choice). Universal's work on this disc is top notch and worth a look.
You could do better than Skyline but you can do much, much worse (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: I'm looking at you).
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