Please, Don’t Look Up
A Film Review of Skyline
By: Lawrence Napoli
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:98:]]When I first saw the trailer for Skyline I assumed it represented the remnants of an impromptu ID4 (1996) sequel which Will Smith subsequently jettisoned for lacking vision, thus terminating all hope for that franchise to develop into at least a trilogy. Alien attack films are fun! They tend to be a much more positive spin on the disaster film genre because more often than not, it features the banding together of all humanity against a common foe. This formula has become so refined by professionals and accepted by audiences of so many different backgrounds that I truly wonder if this is the only circumstance for which humanity would ever achieve some real level of world peace. Skyline is certainly no exception in terms of its overall story, but what makes this film unique is how it digresses from certain rules that have been assigned to the construction of contemporary films in this blockbuster category.
The most curious “rule violation” happens to set the restriction meter for all the aspects of filmmaking that are typical of alien attack, action films. There was practically no money put into this film! Actually the budget was estimated at $10 million dollars and for this type of project such a pathetic investment redefines the concept of “shoestring.” The masterminds and co-directors of this film, Colin and Greg Strause, had no production experience outside the realm of visual effects, for which the duo has accumulated an impressive rÃ©sumÃ©. Just to give you an idea, these men were involved with The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Constantine (2005), Fantastic Four (2005), 300 (2006), Jumper (2008), Avatar (2009) and Iron Man 2 (2010). Suffice it to say, if you need something to appear on film/video that simply does not exist (except in fantasyland), these men are on the short list of top level talent that you contact. Bearing this in mind, I can only imagine how they pitched the idea for Skyline and I assume it went something like this: We have an idea for a sci-fi thriller that will cost an investing studio 1/10thof the presumed budget for all films of this magnitude and it will look every bit as impressive because we have profitably proven records in visual effects and we can make anything look better than Hollywood! I believe they had the executives of Universal at, “1/10thof the presumed budget,” for sci-fi blockbusters which traditionally start out at a $100 million dollar investment. I would be shocked if the green light wasn’t instantly given at this point because as we all know; studio executives (like all business executives) ONLY care about being firmly rooted in the black.
And the Strause boys did not disappoint because the visual effects in Skyline are quite epic. There are plenty of intricately detailed alien “mother” ships to see in addition to several other manifestations of alien invaders: from smaller fighters in the air to massive behemoths on the ground. Honestly, the destruction of LA never looked better. Therein lies another significant “rule violation,” because the visual effects of this film were truly relied upon as a crutch for the entire production and the story was laughable, if not completely forgettable. The screenwriters for Skyline, Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell, are a couple of dudes who worked with the brothers Strause in some of their past visual effect jobs. Therefore, it is no surprise that the plot for this particular alien invasion is exceptionally watered down due to its heavy handed borrowing from films like ID4 and videogames like Resistance: Fall of Man. Nothing in this film is something you haven’t seen before. The dialogue follows suit in that it is as equally uninspiring as the plot. Fortunately though, the audience is treated to an expedient body count so as to minimize the eye rolling factor and refocus on the alien eye candy. Say what you will about the debatably “cheesy” story and lines of ID4, but that film truly kicked ass because it was an epic story told through very personal struggles of characters we cared about and their lines of dialogue sold enough audiences to gross over $300 million dollars at the box office. Good writing is the reason why people like Stephen King get paid lots of money.
And speaking of the actors that helped produce the characters that the audience is supposedly required to care about, yet another “rule violation” occurs with the absence of any alpha level actor being attached to this production. There isn’t even a Samuel L. Jackson being eaten by sharks within the first 5 minutes of the movie moment from Deep Blue Sea (1999). Again, I refer to the allowed budget for this film and it is quite obvious why Eric Balfour from Dexter and Donald Faison from Scrubs are the top billed talent for Skyline. Granted, the script’s pedestrian nature disallows even a cast comprising of Kevin Spacey, Sean Connery, and Tom Hanks (all agreeing to work for “scale,” i.e. nothing!) to turn this good looking movie into an actual good movie. As a result, I’m not sure how much blame I can place on a cast of character actors. But I can say that alpha personalities do add credibility to a production where the artistic foundation (story, script, actors, directors, effects, and scenery) is somewhat in question.
Skyline is an experimental film from Hollywood. If anyone has attended or heard stories about film school, “experimental” films usually involve things like short videos of staring at sill life, extreme close ups of genitalia, animation that is neither purposeful nor entertaining, people staring at each other and shameless nudity for the sake of nudity (not even pornography). Experimental films tend to have one or two things that are interesting about them, while the rest leaves the viewer confused as to the purpose of the entire production. Skyline is Hollywood’s answer to The Blair Witch Project (1999) and it doesn’t appear this film will be a success as it has only grossed $11.7 million at the box office at the time of this article’s composition. Every now and then, the American audience does me proud and treats films that are trying to hoodwink your wallets they way they ought to be treated: by ignoring them. Well done, all of you! You deserve a treat.
That being said, if one is able to completely nullify the importance of plot, character and dialogue, Skyline is a truly remarkable feat if it is true that it was created for a mere $10 million dollars. I would recommend this film to any amateur filmmaker or visual effects artist in that it is an impressive example of doing more with less. This is what you get when the production staff is made of visual artists. Do you think you’d get the best acting performance on film if the staff were comprised of only actors? Whatever the result, it certainly would be more Jersey Shore than Shakespeare.