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Entries in Skyline [2010] (1)

Wednesday
Nov172010

Skyline (2010)

Defamation of Independence

If you’ve ever watched the geographically confused MTV series Jersey Shore: Miami, then you’re familiar with the endless club montages featuring drunk, horny fame-seekers.  Occasionally, you’ll notice a handful of blurred-out faces in the crowd shots; sometimes they’re even in the close-ups with the cast.

Why didn’t they sign the release form to appear on national television?  Maybe they weren’t supposed to be out at the club the night JWOWW and Pauly D rolled onto the scene.  Perhaps they’re ashamed at having blown The Situation in a bathroom stall (especially after the show’s nurse revealed that all the housemates have herpes).  Or maybe they’re just embarrassed at being, as Chris Rock put it, “the old guy in the club.”

That’s not hard to imagine, considering the fine line between being thirty years old and partying it up because the Viacom corporation is footing the booze tab—and just being thirty years old, hanging out in a dance club.

I wonder about these people sometimes, and what it would be like to be trapped with them in a hotel room during an alien invasion.  Lucky me, The Brothers Strause have painted what is, I’m sure, an accurate picture with their much-anticipated follow-up to Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Skyline.

Let’s rewind the tape for a moment, back to a time when I was hopeful about this movie.  A couple months ago, I saw the great teaser trailer, which starred news anchors/commentators Dan Rather and Lawrence O’Donnell.  They invoked Stephen Hawking and Christopher Columbus as quick cuts of giant blue light balls descended upon Los Angeles.  That clip did everything a teaser should, giving the audience just enough information to guarantee asses in seats come opening weekend.

Cut to two weeks ago, when I began seeing extended trailers full of actors I hadn’t thought of in probably half a decade, running from what looked to be clones of the Cloverfield monster dipped in molasses and dog shit.  My expectations dried up faster than national health care, and I went to the theatre yesterday expecting the worst.

Well, it’s not the worst movie ever made.  Colin and Greg Strause can rest easy knowing that Skyline is better than AvP:R by a hair (a short, brittle hair).  I’d assumed going in that this would be Independence Day with washed-up actors, but Skyline is so much more than that.  It shuns narrative and character in ways that can only be described as avante garde while also committing blatant theft of ideas, plot points, and creature designs from actual sci-fi films.  And, no, I’m not mistaking theft for homage; at the very least, the Strauses should be sued for crimes against art.

Need proof?  Look no further than the scene where two people hide behind a kitchen counter as giant alien tentacles snake through the window, probing for life with their robotic eyes (War of the Worlds).  Or how about the alien aircraft that zoom about with squid-like arms trailing behind them, collecting humans and returning them to a processing plant (The Matrix).

Then there are the aliens themselves, which look exactly like the ones from Independence Day (which in turn were distant cousins of Stan Winston’s Alien Queen design); the only distinction is the Strauses cover them in blue Christmas lights and about eight gallons of sludge.  Whereas the Cloverfield monster had distinct features that were obscured because the director strove for mystery, the Strauses’ aliens are shown frequently—giving the audience a good look at the utter lack of care and design that went into creating them.

Shit, I forgot there are humans in Skyline, too.  Well, that may be a bit of a stretch: they’re more like those blurred-out Jersey Shore extras than actual people.  Eric Balfour plays Jarrod, a guy who comes to Los Angeles with his pregnant girlfriend, Elaine (Scottie Thompson), to visit his friend Terry (Donald Faison).  I think Jarrod and Terry have been friends since childhood (or at least high school), and I’m pretty sure Terry is a successful something-or-other in Hollywood who works on big-budget Transformers-type movies; I know he’s in a position to offer Jarrod an effects job based solely on their friendship, but I’m not sure how or why.

There’s a difference between dropping an audience into the middle of the story and then gradually explaining how all the characters relate to each other (see The Usual Suspects), and opening your movie with a lot of half-conversations between people whose roles will stop being defined once the aliens show up to destroy forward plot momentum.  The only thing I learned about the people in Skyline is that Jarrod isn’t ready for a baby, and that Terry cheated on his girlfriend (wife?) with his personal assistant (his wife/girlfriend’s personal assistant?).

Most of these actors are in their early-to-late thirties, yet only one of their characters has a shred of common sense or decency (that would be Elaine, but she loses judgment points for sticking it out with Jarrod).  In better alien-invasion movies, they would be the disposable morons who get eaten/harvested/molested by the superior-minded aliens.  Skyline follows them for more than an hour-and-a-half as they try to escape an L.A. high-rise.

Lack of scale is the movie’s other shortcoming.  Independence Day showed the world-wide impact of an alien attack; Cloverfield took place all over Manhattan.  The hapless freaks in Skyline barely get past the pool before half of the survivors are eaten. The awesome US-fighter-planes-versus-alien-ship scenes from the trailer are all from the vantage point of a telescope in the hotel room; a hotel room, by the way, that must have been built using Kryptonite and the adamantium-infused remains of Jimmy Hoffa because it withstands a nuclear blast not a mile away from its check-in desk (the windows barely rattled).

There is one scene that works, which gives Skyline the advantage over Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.  Towards the end of the film, Jarrod and Elaine are sucked up into one of the mother ships; they hold each other and prepare for the worst, and as their bodies rocket out of L.A. I wondered why the previous ninety minutes couldn’t have been as subtle and interesting as these precious ninety seconds.

Of course, Colin and Greg ruin this bright spot by taking us on-board the spacecraft, where we find out that the aliens’ grand plan is to remove human brains and implant them into the lifeless bodies of their own newborn monsters.  Jarrod gets decapitated and re-planted.  Just as a gang of slimy probes is about to do something terrible to Elaine, the Jarrod Creature swoops down from somewhere and rescues her.  Skyline ends with a horde of aliens closing in, and Jarrod striking a classic “come get some” video game pose.  Roll credits.

Seriously, who the fuck was this movie made for?  Are the days of studios granting gifted directors millions of dollars to create memorable science fiction films really over?  Was Skyline ever intended to be Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the YouTube generation?  I understand spectacle, but it has to service some kind of story or heart or point if it’s to truly be spectacular (if the aliens are using our brains, for instance, why doesn’t Jarrod come back as an irresponsible loser; where did this hero shit come from?).

Given the state of the global economy, Skyline seems even more like a tremendous waste of time, talent, and energy; not that anyone in the movie’s demographic would notice or care about such things.  Jersey Shore is a hit for a reason.