“Don’t Look Up” is the tag line for visual effects artists turned directors The Brothers Strause (AVPR: Aliens Versus Predators Requiem) new film Skyline and fittingly, it might also be a warning. Skyline is another installment in the get rich and die trying market of sci-fi turn-a-buck action films that continue to saturate the market these days. You could blame any number of things from improvements in digital filmmaking and new technologies to the next wave of young DIY filmmakers flooding the stream. Maybe it’s just the decrepit Hollywood machine looking to cash in on the next Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, District 9 or bloody hell movie – no money in rarely equates to lots of money coming out but every once in a while it happens and we the moviegoers end up paying the price. The results tend to feel familiar, movies that look good but little else, relying on tired, unimaginative storytelling and potato chip thin moments that feel more like light beer going down – less taste, less filling, less everything.
Skyline is a derivative ham bone – at least they could have come up with a title that didn’t sum up the story in a single world – aliens appear in the sky and make a B-line for the ground where they wreak havoc, suck brains and ultimately face unlikely and unsuccessful resistance who don’t have much to say before they go. The film begins with the usual getting to know the main characters chit-chat, the obligatory triviality of loosely stitched back stories leading to the reason for gathering. The only unknown is who is going to die first and how. We learn quite early on that a menacing meteor storm is anything but and this strange blue light that follows leaves one helluva sunburn. The thing is, all this movie really needed was more wit, some drama and funny bits mixed in; if we had only been given more reason to like the characters it would have been easier to follow their bad choices and bloody consequences. I don’t know about you but I ended up rooting for the aliens, flicking popcorn kernels across the aisle at those fumbling their way to the safety of the exit door.
Skyline is a last man/woman standing action flick with aliens instead of vampires and werewolves, with high gloss space ships and squid-like carnivores that don’t die or stay where you put them. The plot feels more like a series of events rather than anything else, the choice of whether or not to stay in the building or venture outside the only tangible goals ever presented. I’m not even sure it’s possible to care about this handful of young up and comers, the wealthy cool ones or the others in that necessary sort of way that makes all B-movies enjoyable to some degree. Do you remember the first movie in the Evil Dead franchise, how the style kept us engaged? Remember that sense of camp, that silliness and seriousness that gave us something to hold as things got all screwy like when the trap door in the floor kept flapping up and down and all we wanted to see was what was down there.
There’s no doubt the majority of the budget went into the alien effects, maybe a little for makeup and locations and some helicopters. It is painfully obvious the budget didn’t include actual interaction with the aliens as most of the destruction is kept beyond window blinds and concrete walls. In this film the best part about not seeing the aliens is not seeing the aliens. One can’t help but fall back on a dozen more successful films from the past quarter century – films like John Carpenter’s The Thing or Ridley Scott’s brilliant Alien, films that kept the monster in the closet but they had acting, screenwriting, set design and creativity to flesh out the moments between the moments. Skyline plays out like the last alien assault on planet earth movie you’ll ever need to see again; ever. The only thing more memorable than the final fade to black is the chance to imagine what must still be going on after the film ends because the filmmakers had no idea how to end the movie so they just did.
Consider Skyline one of those films that stupefies, that kicks you in the groin like a ten-year old, that reminds you once again that films are a lot like those pictures of hamburgers in buses and Bart cars, life-sized, mouth-watering, and ultimately unsatisfying. But the worst part of all is the knowing that a ten million dollar catastrophe can produce $67 million dollars in profits which means Skyline 2 is somewhere nearby even when it shouldn’t be.