13 November 2010 | paperback_wizard
Alien Invasion or Zombie Apocalypse?
(Originally appeared as "Alien Invasion or Zombie Apocalypse?" at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports)
There are certain elements that you expect to find in an alien invasion movie: massive spaceships, all out war, maybe even a bit of mind control. You certainly get that and more in "Skyline", directed by Colin and Greg Strause, the story of a few friends in Los Angeles who wake early one morning to find extraterrestrials have arrived (and they have not come in peace). Blinding blue lights beckon humans irresistibly to the alien spaceships, which harvest the humans for ...
Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, meet our heroes. Eric Balfour (24, Haven) and Scottie Thompson (NCIS, Trauma) play Jarrod and Elaine, a pair of lovers who are visiting LA on their friend's birthday. Donald Faison (Scrubs) plays Terry, who Jarrod "always knew would make it big." Terry wants Jarrod to move to LA permanently, though that causes some issues with Elaine who has no desire to embrace Terry's lifestyle. While I've always been something of a fan of Scottie Thompson, and knowing that Faison and Balfour have their own followings, I have to say that they do not make the greatest transition from the smallscreen to the bigscreen (though all have had minor-to-supporting roles in previous movies, this is the first time they've headlined a major production).
Most disaster flicks try to focus on the main characters and how the "disaster", whether it's an alien invasion, an asteroid crashing to the Earth, or some other "end of the world" scenario, changes their lives and relationships. "Skyline", however, has no problem abandoning that particular story arc in favor of a straight survivalist narrative for the remainder of the movie. The characters, faced with aliens that not only abduct humans by the hundreds but also turn them into mindless shells in the process, quickly if imperfectly abandon all personal issues in their efforts to escape the threat while they still can.
That's where the genre comes off the rails a bit, I feel, in this case. In most alien invasion movies, you form a resistance and you push the invaders off the planet. After all, unless you want your movie to have an unhappy ending, there's simply no other way to end an invasion. On the other hand, if you're going for the "gritty realism" that seems to be the order of the day for all movies now, how do you realistically expect to stop an intergalactic fleet that can wipe out whole cities in less than a day? As clever as the ending to H.G. Wells' story "War of the Worlds" was, you just can't expect a hyper-advanced race, capable of decimating the human race in a matter of days, to not have considered the common cold (or hackers, Mr. Emmerich).
While the United States military is certainly not idle during this crisis, we soon enough learn that there's little they can do against this menace; so, you can imagine, there's far less that our heroes can do. One particularly clear-thinking character points this out several times while trying to keep Jarrod from leaving the relative safety of their apartment, and, not incidentally, increasing the feeling of hopelessness for the audience. I found myself repeating a mantra at one point during the movie: there is no escape, there is no rescue, and there is no resistance. If the Brothers Strause accomplished one thing with their movie, besides some of the greatest special effects to hit theaters since "Avatar" (which they also helped to create), it's a realistic scenario in the event that an alien invasion ever occurs. In short, Stephen Hawking was right.
So, where does that leave us? And with what? We have a small band of survivors facing what could be the end of the human race against a foe that seemingly can't be killed (or, at least, won't stay killed). They try to run, they try to hide, and they try to lock themselves in a hotel until they can be rescued. They face the everpresent probability that, not only could they die at the hands of these monsters, they could even face something much worse than death. Tensions flare between the survivors as they struggle to think of and stick to a workable plan. Mistrust and doubt lead to "dissension in the ranks". No one is sure who the "leader" is, and they're even less sure of what their fate will be. The question is not can they survive, but for how long. As I watched, I realized that's never really a question I asked myself while watching alien invasion movies before; but I almost always ask it while watching zombie movies.
I enjoyed this movie for its amazing visuals and special effects. The Brothers Strause have proved their proficiency repeatedly, and this movie is absolutely an example of doing more with less (much of it was shot in their own apartment building). They even did a fair job of directing the characters in what was essentially the first major outing for everyone involved. While it had hints of M. Night Shyamalan, Roland Emmerich, and even a bit of Steven Spielberg, it was the Strauses own film, right up until the strangely compelling closing scene. I wouldn't call it deserving of an Oscar, but I am eager to see what the duo produce next.