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Review

Alien film sets tone for future

Michael Brun

November 18, 2010

There is a scene in Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” in which Tom Cruise keeps his fictional son from running over a hill and seeing a fight between the army and an alien tripod. You hear all kinds of sweet explosions as rockets and tanks rush headlong into the fray. But Spielberg never shows the battle, a fact that still frustrates me to this day. “Skyline” is basically what was on the other side of that hill.

The plot of “Skyline” revolves around a group of friends holed up in a Los Angeles apartment building during a surprise alien attack. The extraterrestrials are a nasty lot: they fly, have a lot of tentacles and eat human brains. They are devious, too, giving off a brilliant blue light that, when seen, forces hapless humans to walk outside for easy pickup by harvester ships.

“Skyline” has been described elsewhere as “Night of the Living Dead” meets “Independence Day.” While it does share many elements with them, comparing it to such classics is too flattering. I say it is more like “Cloverfield,” only without the faux documentary style and with plus a lot more action.
Like “Cloverfield,” “Skyline” presents an alien invasion from the prospective of a small band of survivors.

We aren’t given any information beyond what is known by the characters. Who are these aliens, and what do they want?

These questions and more are brought up without any definitive answers. If you are the kind of sci-fi fan that enjoys speculating about alien societies and their organizational structure, then you will be pleased with how much is left to the imagination.

Where “Skyline” differs from “Cloverfield” is the amount of action. You don’t go to an alien invasion movie to watch humans scurry around and sort out their relationships; you go to see monsters wreck stuff. There is some romance in the plot, but it is overshadowed by plenty of destruction and mayhem.

Directors Colin and Greg Strause (known collectively as the Brothers Strause) have only one other major motion picture to their name, the absolutely abysmal “Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem.” While “Skyline” doesn’t redeem them for their work on that movie, my opinion of the duo has changed greatly. It takes a certain kind of cool to make a movie featuring a fleet of unmanned drones firing nuclear missiles at an alien mothership, and the Brothers Strause have it.

Joining the Brothers on the production of “Skyline” were legendary creature designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. Their work includes such iconic movie monsters as the aliens from “Aliens” and the robotic skeleton from “The Terminator.” As would be expected from such talent, the aliens they designed for “Skyline” look great.

Although they are clearly inspired by similar movies, they have a sort of organic technology thing going on that is very intriguing.

Unfortunately, the humans are not nearly as interesting as the aliens. A small, tight-knit cast works well in this kind of movie so long as the audience can become invested in their survival. As group members inevitably begin to get picked off, I found myself not caring. The actors are a kind of necessary evil in “Skyline,” thrown in to make it a movie and not just an hour and a half special effects demo.

On the subject of special effects, I was impressed with how gorgeous “Skyline” is. Even though it was made with an estimated $10 million — paltry for this kind of movie — it looks far from low-budget. Some of the CGI effects are cheesy, but there are enough jaw-dropping moments to balance them out.

The cast is bland, certain special effects shots miss their mark and the ending reeks of studio intervention, but “Skyline” is still a worthy entry into the alien invasion subgenre. There is a wave of alien-themed movies coming in 2011, and if they are at least as enjoyable as this, then we are in for a treat.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.