Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2010

Made for TV

'Skyline' is like the 10-year-old kid who tries to play sports with all the high-school kids

Skyline
Universal Pictures
Director: The Brothers Strause
Screenplay: Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell
Starring: Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed, Neil Hopkins, David Zayas and Donald Faison
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 32 minutes
(out of four)

By now it's already a stale argument, but ignoring it would be too much of an oversight. So let me get this out of the way first: It seems like the creators of Skyline saw District 9 hit it big last summer, realized that low-budget F/X-heavy sci-fi movies really could compete against big-budget studio tentpoles, and proceeded to come up with their own scenario in which alien spaceships hover over a crowded city.

There's no way around the comparison - and virtually no chance that either the filmmakers or Universal Pictures didn't have District 9 squarely in mind when putting this thing together.

Having said that, I also don't think Colin and Greg Strause - er, pardon me, that's The Brothers Strause - are trying to replicate the former film as much as using it as a springboard for an old-fashioned alien-invasion flick. Problem is, the old-fashioned alien-invasion flick always used to end up in one of two places - Mystery Science Theatre 3000, or The Sci-Fi Channel . . . er, pardon me, that's SyFy.

Which is precisely where Skyline should have gone - and, most likely, would have, if not for a sudden spike of interest in the alien-attack subgenre. The film is almost impervious to comparison to or contrast with any real feature film, because it's really just a made-for-TV flick that should only be viewed at two in the morning by absolute diehards. It should have gone Direct to Redbox. It doesn't belong at the theatre any more than your teenage kid's band belongs on the radio.

You know it's a bad sign when your directors are a pair of career special-effects gurus, and your special effects still suck. If the Strauses - er, pardon me, that's The Brothers Strause - can't even get their own department right, what hope did the rest of the film have? Well, not much. In addition to their shoddy effects, the Strauses at times seem incapable of composing a decent shot. Another bad sign: When you see the standard-fare second-unit shots of the city and say to yourself, "Finally! Visual competence!"

I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention that the directors' last film was a sequel to a combined sequel to a pair of dead franchises - 2007's Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.

The thing about Skyline is that it's genuine and un-ironic about its material. It believes in it. The Strauses - er, pardon me, that's The Brothers Strause - believe in it. So we can at least give them credit for not putting on airs, or pretending to do something they're not, or apologizing for what they are doing.

The only problem is, the movie's just not any good. The actors - who can charitably be called C-list, and only then because Donald Faison has Scrubs on his résumé - don't seem to know what emotions they want to express from moment to moment. The Strauses - working from a script by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell (who are also special-effects guys) - never really find anything to do with their central premise, or find places for any of their ideas to go.

In a War of the Worlds-like setup, alien spacecrafts arrive one day and start wreaking havoc, with our heroes (a ragtag group of Hollywood and blue-collar types) fighting for their lives in a series of unusual plot-driving decisions. ("Let's go outside and drive to the marina!")

When the film finally gets to an interesting idea or two - the reaction of Jarrod's (Eric Balfour) body to his exposure to alien technology, for example - it has no idea what to do with it. In which case the filmmakers go to the fallback option, which is to lazily make the characters turn against each other.

Skyline is a difficult movie to outright hate, mostly because its earnestness and lack of self-awareness are a bit endearing. Then again, that might just sound condescending. But if the Strauses really want their film to be held up against virtually any professionally made Hollywood film, they're going to come up wanting.

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