Skyline (DVD)

Don’t look up.

A few years back, special effects experts the Strause brothers got their chance to direct a major studio film, Aliens Vs. Predator: Pizza Delivery Boy, uh, I mean Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem. The film was a critical and financial ker-plop, and the Strause brothers alleged studio mingling as the cause. For their next sci-fi actioner, the brothers went “indie,” raising the money from scratch. Considering the boost they eventually got from Universal and blockbuster director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), I struggle to consider the movie independent, but that’s neither here nor there. The movie is Skyline, and it promises alien invasion mayhem galore. Does it deliver?

Jarrod (Eric Balfour, 24) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson, Pornstar) have flown to L.A. to visit Jarrods’ childhood pal Terry (Donald Faison, Scrubs), who’s made it big in Hollywood. That night, as the partying and the mid-’20s angst winds down, the city is attacked by giant aliens, sucking hundreds of humans into their ships and hypnotizing others with a mysterious blue light. With the help of a local cop (David Zayas, Dexter), Jarrod and his friends survive the night and go into hiding, only to face more extraterrestrial horrors as the sun rises.

Skyline offers a lot of freaky aliens and a lot of beautiful people being chased by those freaky aliens. It hits all the right buttons of the alien invasion genre, or subgenre, or sub-subgenre—and yet, something is still missing.

The movie takes its time at the beginning as we get to know the main characters. It’s shown early on that Jarrod is resistant to change, hesitating to take a lucrative Hollywood job and not sure how to react to learning he’s about to become a father. This is setting the character up for what’s to come, so that by the end of the movie, he must go through more than one kind of change. Later, after our heroes have escaped from repeated alien attacks and are in hiding, we get “the Romero.” This is when the characters are isolated from the horrors around them, and the tension builds as they have nothing to do but deal with one another.

All of this character building should be a good thing. Somehow, though, it just doesn’t work. It’s hard to put a finger on why, except to say that it just doesn’t feel genuine. It’s as if the filmmakers are throwing all these character scenes not because they want us to root for their protagonists, but because that’s how movie scripts are supposed to work. The Strause brothers want to wow us with a movie full of alien freakiness, and are including scenes of character development just because that’s what they’re expected to do.

Fortunately, the film shines when it comes to the visual effects, which get a ten on the neat-o scale. The many “humans mesmerized by strange alien lights” shots are evocative of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The alien ships and creatures are great designs, mixing biological and technological elements, and lit by those freaky lights. The movie’s most thrilling moment takes place away from the main characters, somewhat tellingly, in which Earth jets attack the alien ships, and this is where the filmmakers really cut loose with the effects. It’s too bad that the entire movie doesn’t have that same adrenaline rush feeling.

Then there’s the movie’s ending, or perhaps I should non-ending. After building to a climax, the story doesn’t end as much as it simply stops. They might as well have put “Stay tuned for Skyline 2!” right up on the screen and gotten it over with.

As expected for an effects-driven film, the video quality on this disc is solid, with bright colors, excellent detail, and deep, rich black levels. Even more impressive is the sound. The Dolby 5.1 track blasts and zaps and rumbles throughout, creating an amazing and immersive sound experience. The generous extras start off with two commentary tracks, one with the Strause brothers and the other with the screenwriter and producer. Everyone argues their case about how the movie was financed by themselves, filmed in their own homes to save money, etc. From there, we get a pre-vis feature, with a look at two key scenes in their original animatic form. There are also deleted scenes, extended scenes, and alternate scenes, followed by trailers for film.

It’s difficult to know what to say about Skyline. It looks great and it does a lot of the right things, but something’s lacking. Bland characters and a slam-on-the-brakes ending are the deal-killer. Still, there was just enough here that I liked that I’ll gladly check out whatever the Strause brothers are cooking up as their next film.

The Verdict

As a special effects reel: Not guilty. As a complete film: Guilty.

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