'Skyline': The FX nerds shall inherit the Earth

Posted: Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Skyline"

Ap Photo/Universal Pictures
Ap Photo/Universal Pictures
In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, fighter jets attack an alien ship over the city of Los Angeles in the sci-fi thriller, "Skyline".

Black Monday Film Services

1 hour, 32 minutes

In the last few years, Earth has been attacked and decimated by scores of alien civilizations. Every time you turn around, it seems, some new giant spaceship is appearing over the skies of Los Angeles or New York or even Johannesburg, its inhabitants causing no end of mayhem. If they're not knocking down buildings with giant meteors, they're coming up from underneath, scaring the heck out of Tom Cruise. They've trashed the White House, the Chrysler Building, the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower, and were the first to try and "whack" Randy Quaid.

But why go to all that trouble? If you want to get rid of the human race, wouldn't it be simpler just to suck us all up, like some kind of giant Dyson in the clouds? Naturally. That's the premise of this week's spectacular looking, but spectacularly stupid new sci-fi flick, "Skyline."

As the film opens, we see an apartment strewn with hung-over hotties, all your basic L.A. types, lanky guys with tiny bits of expertly sculpted facial hair and stylishly mussed hair, and leggy model-ettes wearing see-through button downs over their bikinis, as if they are forever five minutes from being in the pool. It's dark and the place is trashed, the party having been epic. Just then, a weird blue light starts shining through the curtains, and we're off and running.

At this point, the movie flashes back a day and we get to meet the characters we're soon going to be running for our lives with. Meet Jarrod and Elaine, a young couple winging their way to L.A. to spend the weekend with an old friend who's made it in the big-time.

Right off the bat I was annoyed. Not only is the dialogue irritating and incredibly obvious (they might as well have put a sign around her neck that said "I'm pregnant but he doesn't know!) but the actor who plays Jarrod, one Eric Balfour, just has a look that makes you want to punch him in the face. I don't know if it was the scrawny mustache or the greasy hair or ridiculously over-done tattoos, or simply the fact that it looks like someone stretched his head in Photoshop, but I took an instant dislike to him.

Pretty soon we get to L.A. and actually come across a real actor, though just barely. Donald Faison, the black guy from "Scrubs," plays Terry, the rich friend, and it's in his penthouse apartment that much of the movie takes place. From there the characters get blasted, pass out, then wake up to see the end of the world. The lights I mentioned before start plummeting from the sky sometime in the middle of the night. They are followed by some pretty terrifying space ships, and after that starts the vacuuming I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

If, by this time, the movie hadn't already completely lost its audience, all this might have been pretty scary -- hundreds of thousands of people being sucked up into the giant maw of these completely alien vessels. As it is, however, it almost plays for laughs -- watching Jarrod, Terry and co. run around like chickens with their heads cut off for 90 minutes while all of humanity goes up the spout.

Hiding in the apartment seems like a good idea, but eventually, the ships start depositing living creatures to continue the clean-up house to house, so hunkering down is no longer an option. Not that it was incredibly creative to start with, but "Skyline" eventually devolves into a run-and-hide-from-the-giant-monster movie, and by the end you're just itching for the few remaining humans to get squashed. I won't spoil the ending, but of all the "what?!s" and "oh come on!s" of the movie, the final scene is the biggest head-slapper of them all.

In the movie, the aforementioned party is the beginning of the aforementioned alien invasion, but I have a feeling this scene was taken from real life, the special effects nerds' after-party getting crashed by investors demanding an actual movie. "Skyline" is what happens when you remove a lot of the creative, and not so creative people, from the movie-making equation, and give it all over the effects guys.

No surprise, the directors, Colin and Greg Straus, are, in fact visual effects designers. Good ones, too. They worked on everything from "Avatar" to "Titanic," so it's no wonder that the FX in "Skyline" are pretty incredible. The aliens are scary, and best of all, look really alien -- bizarre and somehow unique, though much is stolen from other films, notably "The Matrix" and "Independence Day."

There are some pretty spectacular shots in "Skyline," and it's a shame that everything else in the film is so poorly done. Not only are the dialogue and acting horrendous, but the plot requires such suspension of disbelief that the audience can't help but laugh, be it the nearby nuclear blast that does little more than rattle the windows of the characters' high-rise apartment, or the spectacular stunt where our heroes duck and roll under the wing of a tumbling jet fighter, or the fact that the aliens came billions of miles across the universe to steal our ... but no -- I won't spoil it.

The biggest leap the filmmakers ask you to make, and the only one that I chuckled affectionately at, is that the characters of Terry and Jarrod are not aspiring hip-hop stars, or even actors. Terry has made it big in Hollywood by being, you guessed it, a special effects wizard. Artists typically do not get the money, and computer artists especially do not get girls like the fresh-off-the-set-of-"Baywatch" types featured in "Skyline." Even if their movie is going nowhere, I guess the Straus Brothers can take some glee in the fact that, if for only a moment, the nerds were running the world.

Grade: C-

"Skyline" is rated PG-13 for scary and gruesome alien attack violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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