Sunday, November 14, 2010

Movie Review: "Skyline" (SPOILERS)

My friend David and I saw the movie Skylineyesterday, undeterred by the thoroughly awful reviews it's got on RottenTomatoes.com.

I really enjoyed it.  Here's my review...


The Good

The alien invaders, both in terms of concept and execution, are really cool.  They're basically a biomechanical predatory swarm, using their hypnotic blue lights to lure human prey like an anglerfish in the deep oceans would.  Their amazing ability to repair damage suffered using local materials--the remains of buildings and convenient humans--is exposited early on and done consistently.

The scene where the military goes up against one of the alien motherships with a swarm of Predator drones and at least one B-2 Spirit armed with a nuclear bomb was really cool, both the visuals and the music.  The image of the crippled alien mothership, gutted by the nuclear missile, plowing through the city as it falls was just awesome.

The second fight scene when Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) flee their penthouse refuge and watch F-22s duke it out with even more alien flyers while a group of soldiers with big .50 caliber rifles snipe at a large alien ground creatures was fun too.

Although the characterization is not one of the film's strongest points, Jarrod does get a character arc.  He starts out as kind of hapless, reacting to stuff that happens to him (his best friend's employee suddenly announcing he's taken a job in California without asking him, Elaine's unexpected pregnancy) and being a bit obnoxious.  After nearly being snatched by the alien light, something that affects him physiologically and psychologically, he "mans up" significantly, overpowering building concierge Oliver (David Zayas) who thinks he's turning into an alien and whaling on an alien flyer threatening him and Elaine using both a brick and a fire axe.  He even flat-out tells Oliver that nobody is going to stop him from protecting "my family," indicating that despite his earlier response to learning of Elaine's pregnancy, he is taking responsibility.

UBER-SPOILER BELOW

Even after being captured and having his brain transplanted into an alien body, Jarrod manages to retain his free will and whups up other aliens intent on dissecting the Elaine after discovering she is pregnant (this continues on into the credits--be sure to stay).  This also serves as a big sequel hook--although the aliens appear triumphant in a montage depicting them floating over Earth's major cities, Jarrod could easily be the inspiration for a revolt among the prisoners aboard one of the aliens' bigger ships.

Oliver gets some awesome moments too, including a part where he fills the penthouse with gas to turn it into a suicide bomb against a large alien ground creature climbing up the building to get him.  Although it takes awhile for Jarrod to "man up," Oliver does so from the beginning--he demands Jarrod wake up and realize the gravity of the situation, favors a cautious approach after some other characters are killed, and is smart to be suspicious of Jarrod's appearance and demeanor.  Oliver's pained reaction to seeing the nuclear flash while looking through the telescope was realistic too.

Also, the film begins with the initial alien invasion and then flashes back to "15 hours before," which is a good way to hook the viewer.  Given the film's weaker characterization, starting with the hijinks of these people and THEN seeing the fit hit the shan a la Cloverfield might not be a good idea.

The movie also foreshadows Elaine's pregnancy by depicting her as being nauseous and even throwing up in the morning and Jarrod assisting a woman with a baby when they leave their airplane.  The second part could also foreshadow Jarrod's growing paternal attitude.  I liked that, even though I knew about Elaine's pregnancy from the reviews.

The Bad

The characters need work.  Jarrod has a character arc and Oliver has a brain and initiative, but it's not clear why Terry (Donald Faison) is cheating on Candice (Brittany Daniel) with Denise (Crystal Reed), a woman whose position is not entirely clear but whom Wikipedia describes as his secretary who for some reason hangs around his penthouse.  Earlier we get the impression Candice is jealous and high-maintenance and Denise is besotted with Terry, but it needs to be elaborated on more.  Another character, the one who assumes Jarrod is coming to LA to work for Terry's company, could have been elaborated on a bit more but is killed off pretty early on.

Oliver's back story could be expanded too.  Although his use of "vaya con Dios" identifies him as being Hispanic, I initially thought he was an Arab.  If he was from, say, Lebanon and has seen war before, that could explain why he has the knowledge and attitude he has.

Plus, he stays in the penthouse and waits for the monster to come to him so he can kill both it and himself rather than fleeing into the interior hallways or the stairwell where it would be hard for the aliens to get him.  It's not clear why.  Earlier in the film, Candice behaves somewhat flirtatiously toward him and she was taken by the aliens just before the ground critter spots him, but if the filmmakers' intent was that Oliver loved her and was so distraught by her death that he decided to become a suicide bomber, it didn't work.

Some of the military tactics need work too.  In a modern air battle, the missiles would be launched from miles away.  The cast would see alien flyers and the mothership being hit out of nowhere before seeing the planes coming.  Granted, the attacking force largely consists of Predator drones, but still.

Also, given the fact nuclear weapons were used in the first counterattack, I would imagine there'd be more available when it turned out the aliens were able to immediately start repairing the fallen mothership--surely whoever commanded the attack would be aware the nuke-carrier could be shot down.  A second nuke at that moment would have killed off the alien critters repairing it by the thousands and possibly even completely destroyed its superstructure.  Granted, there might have been more than one B-2 and the one that got the nuke off could have been the last to be destroyed, but making that clearer would have been helpful.  Perhaps another B-2 approaches the crippled mothership to finish it off and it gets swarmed and killed and its missile intercepted by a suicidal alien flyer?

Considering how Southern California is very defense-heavy, it would have been nice to see a larger variety of human units involved in the counterattack.  In one scene, an F-22 strafes an alien ground beast attacking Jarrod and Elaine, a role best suited for a helicopter or A-10.  Seeing a bunch of Apaches doing a "ride of the Valkyries" through the streets of Los Angeles hosing alien ground critters on top of everything else would have been awesome.

Also, we see a carrier battle group offshore during the second counterattack, but the only fixed-wing planes we actually see are F-22 Raptors.  A carrier would be launching F-14s, a la Top Gun.

Finally, when Jarrod beats a fallen alien flyer, we see a lengthy sped-up montage of him hammering the critter.  That could have been cut in half time-wise and we'd have still gotten the point.

The Verdict

A fun but flawed movie with a surprising defense of traditional masculine virtues like taking responsibility and defense of women and kids against threats.  I will definitely see the sequel.  7/10.

10 comments:

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  2. Thanks. I'll take a look at your blog.

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  3. Thanks for the review, I may just go see this now.

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  4. You're welcome. I hope you enjoy it.

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  5. I wonder if the lack of diversity in military hardware had anything to do with money?

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  6. That is possible, but IIRC the non-effcts portions of the film were done for $500,000-ish and the rest of the $10 million budget was spent on the SFX.

    Replacing the F-22 strafing the alien ground-beast attacking Jarrod and Elaine on the roof with an Apache helicopter or an A-10 would be doable, I think. Especially the latter, since another airplane would require less SFX work (and thus money) than a helicopter.

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  7. I thought the military was using drones to attack the alien ships because the whoever was in charge of the operation thought pilots would see the hypnotic lights and crash their planes into the ground trying to get them.
    By the way what were the lights anyway? Where they some kind of giant flare or something; they never do explain what physical structure is emitting the lights.

    One thing that buged me about the military drones though. I've seen this in the "Transformers" films, "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and couple of others. The the drones are based on the Predator and Global Hawks but they have jet engines despite being based on propeller-driven planes! Are propeller-driven drones not cool in Hollywood or something?

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  8. That would be a good reason to use the drones for close-in work, but a manned fighter could engage the alien fleet at beyond visual range (due to radars and the like) and would be unaffected by the aliens' lures.

    About the lures, I think the analogy the creators used is an anglerfish using its lights to lure other fish, but the lights appear to have a physiological effect on humans exposed to them (the purpling veins and cataracting eyes in the short run; apparent genetic mutation due to repeated exposure in Jarrod).

    Maybe that'll be explained in the sequel. :)

    About propellors, I guess maybe jets look cooler, or the goal is to make the military appear more "futuristic"?

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  9. Looking past me being tricked into seeing this movie where the only set is an apartment building, boring characters and the terrible 'red brain' crap.. I couldn't deal with the warfare failures.

    Even if you are some sort of supernatural regenerating biological entity.. you die when a thermonuclear fusion reaction of that magnitude goes off in your face. you can't regenerate when there is nothing left to regenerate! you don't recover from 50 million degrees F up in your balls. that is hotter than the core of the sun.

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  10. Given the size of the alien mothership, a tactical nuclear weapon might not have been enough to kill it.

    The blast hollowed it out, but it left much of the superstructure intact. Enough of the ship survived that it could be repaired with local materials.

    Life lesson: When dealing with predatory planet-eating swarms, use bigger bombs.

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