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Just Look Away: Skyline

Ugh, is it morning already?

Two dudes get together in LA. 
One is a successful, and wealthy producer. 
The other is a graphic designer/artist with a pregnant girlfriend. 
It’s the producer’s birthday. He throws LA a party with an alien invasion theme…

This 2010 survival sci-fi movie has a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where only 19% of the audience report liking it.

This movie was shot on the producers’ personal money, without major studio backing. It was shot at one of their condo buildings. It took less than a year from blank page to screen. Filming only cost $500,000 but the over 800 VFX shots cost another $10 million.

Why Bother?

I hate LA

We’ve been Eric Balfour fans for a long time. My wife was a big fan of Scrubs, so she enjoys Donald Faison. We both like Dexter, so it’s fun seeing David Zayas in something else. 
There’s plenty of eye candy for the dudes, including Scottie Thompson (Elaine), Brittany Daniel (Candice), and Crystal Reed (Denise).>

It’s an alien invasion movie with a good, if not yet world-famous, cast. Because there was no studio involvement during creation, it’s clearly an auteur’s vision, and such movies are usually much more visually distinct, exciting, and original – and honestly,  
Skyline is no exception.

Mostly.

I watched it

All the way to the top is the safest place I can think of.

Jarrod and Elaine fly to LA to meet Jarrod’s childhood buddy, Terry.

It’s Terry’s birthday, and he has a surprise for Jarrod: He wants Jarrod to come to work for him. This comes as a surprise to Elaine, who’s been looking for a good time to tell Jarrod that she’s pregnant. Meanwhile, Denice (Terry’s wife) suspects that Terry is having an affair with his assistant, Denise.

After a big, blow-out, birthday bash, they crash in Terry’s penthouse apartment. The aliens invade at 4:27 AM the next morning. There’s lots of weird lights, screaming, running, giant bio-machines, and a general effort to stay alive.

Should you watch? I’ll explain after the break.

The Verdict

You want to stay the hell with them, be my guest.

Spoilers ahead.

Let’s start with the good.

The effects are terrific. The inexplicable, unstoppable, aliens are terrifying. They exist, but we don’t know why they came or what they want. We know they’re taking people up into their ships, but not why. They eat brains (but they don’t want the brains of soldiers, apparently), and brains seem to have some healing or regenerating effect.

Since none of our characters are scientists, soldiers, or engineers, we never expect any particular insight. They’re just as terrified as we would be. The tension among the characters builds and builds. Even if we don’t like them, we sympathize with them as human beings, and they are terrified.

Now, let’s review the bad.
For one, it’s tough to feel a lot of sympathy for wealthy LA urbanites.

No offense, okay? It’s not personal. Skyline refuses to acknowledge the recession.

These people have the American Dream, but they never acknowledge their good fortune. Most of America is less well off than these people, so the lack of acknowledgement or awareness seems to indicate that the filmmakers aren’t really in touch with what’s happening outside their own worlds.

At least one critic suggested that the Brothers Strause (Colin and Greg, who directed and produced) live more in their hard drives than they do in anything remotely resembling the real world. Considering the loving attention paid to VFX, and the reported 20:1 ration between VFX budget and shooting budget, I tend to agree.

Second, these characters aren’t particularly likeable.

We’re clearly supposed to feel for Jarrod. He’s the less successful of the two friends, and his girlfriend is pregnant. Terry may have made it big, but he’s still supposed to be a cool guy because he shoulder hugs the valet at this building (without speaking to the man or knowing his name) and because he looks out for his friend. Yet when Terry’s friends act like over-privileged, homophobic, jerks, none of our main characters call them out for it. When Candice blows off the condo manager and his noise complaints, our sympathies lie with the manager and the abused neighbors, not the condescending, casually cruel, Candice.

That’s not a criticism of the actors. They all do fine jobs. I can see getting sucked in by their performances. Honestly, there’s a lot going on all at once that could distract you from the dumb.

There’s no story arc here for any of the characters. The creators are far more interested in spectacle than they are in the characters’ greatest fears and greatest desires.

From another standpoint, it’s not particularly racially aware.

Jarrod is ethnically ambiguous, and Terry is black. This is LA, people. Wealth and privilege know no ethnic boundaries. Yet, everyone else is either white, or in a service role. Of the main characters, the first to die is the African-American character. The Hispanic main character is the one who gives up hope and attempts suicide. The white folks are valiant warriors who can defeat super-advanced aliens with a fire axe or a cinder block –or their bare hands.

I could have told you that modern air combat looks nothing like what they filmed, and I was in the Army. Anyone who watches Dogfights on the History Channel could have told them that. They also did no research whatsoever into the effects of nuclear weapons in terms of heat, concussion, and radiation poisoning. Considering all the ways that our government has failed us recently, Oliver’s faith in a military response is either naïve, or stupid. I could find fault after fault in the military counterattack scene. I’m sure it was the best that they could do on their budget. If the only way to include a scene is to do it cheap and stupid, find another scene.

In the last few minutes of the film, I just kept wondering what exactly was so important about human brains that aliens traveled across the galaxy to acquire them. Why invest all that time, effort, and wealth into such a thing? If our brains are so awesome, how do the aliens know? Why couldn’t we defeat them, if we’re so amazing?

Overall, I think the dumb outweighs the good. Unlikeable people make stupid decisions in between running up and down twenty flights of stairs in this big, dumb, loud, movie. The people behind it want to distract you with VFX, explosions, and bright lights so you won’t notice the stupidity. They try to deliver a message about the indomitable human spirit, but they lack the chops.

Their endings need work, too.

Just Look Away.

Don’t go into the light

How do you feel about LA taking a beating here, and in Battle Los Angeles?

Does the City of Angels deserve it? Are filmmakers expressing their frustration with the city, or is it just cheaper to film near home?

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