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Skyline movie poster.
I was all over Skyline from the minute I saw the trailer. I’m a sucker for “giant spaceships descending from the heavens” scenes, and the Skyline trailer had not just that, but scores of human bodies being sucked up from the ground into the spaceships. I was so there! And so last Tuesday night I plunked myself down to watch Skyline.
The movie begins in the early morning hours, when a series of shiny, blue, cometlike objects showers down from the sky across Los Angeles. Their impact leads to tremors that wake people up, including Jarrod and his girlfriend, Elaine. Jarrod moves groggily through the dim bedroom, and he notices a bright light emanating from outside. He goes into the living room to get a better look and quickly finds himself mesmerized by a blinding light outside the windows. Then his eyes cloud over, and dark, spidery veins begin spreading across his face, and down his neck and arms. Uh oh, it’s a bad light! Bad, bad light!
We flash back to the previous day, when Jarrod and Elaine fly into Los Angeles for a visit with Jarrod’s successful friend, Terry. Terry is rich and lives in a penthouse in a high-rise apartment building near the ocean. Jarrod and Elaine, along with Terry’s somewhat snotty girlfriend, Candace, head out for a night on the town. Soon a crowd of partiers are back at Terry’s place, whooping it up. After the party, some stragglers pass out in Terry’s living room while he, Candace, Elaine and Jarrod turn in. Then the comets arrive, and we’re back to Jarrod standing in the living room staring at a bright light with his eyes glazed over.
People who look at the light almost immediately enter a hypnotic state and begin moving toward it like bugs attracted to a bug zapper. And zapped they are, as they are suddenly yanked by an unseen force into the light. Jarrod moves toward the windows, but in the nick of time his friends crash into him and hold him down as he thrashes beneath them. Before long the weird veins recede and his eyes become clear. He appears to be OK, while outside, the light fades away and the cometlike thingys return to the sky.
Jarrod and Terry peek outside and see people gathering on the roofs of nearby buildings. They decide to venture onto the roof of theirs, leaving the three women behind in the apartment. Once on the roof, they witness the arrival of titanic spaceships descending from the cloudy sky. Then the vacuuming begins, as hundreds of humans are sucked into the ships. As if this isn’t unpleasant enough, flying, tentacled aliens begin emerging from the ships. They zip among the buildings, looking them up and down and peering into apartment windows, snatching up any people they can find. Jarrod and Terry beat a hasty retreat from the roof and run back to Terry’s apartment. From this point on, the plot follows Jarrod and his friends as they struggle to survive. Not all of them do.
There are some thrills and chills as our heroes are being chased around by an increasing number of bizarre space creatures. Near as I could determine, there were four alien threats they had to deal with: the giant space ships that were vacuuming people up; the smaller, tentacled things that flew through the air to peer through the windows; other tentacled creatures that could chase people in stairwells and through underground parking garages; and large behemoths capable of crashing through buildings. These latter monsters were like a cross between the monster from Cloverfield and Jabba the Hutt’s pet Rancor in Return of the Jedi. Some of these creatures were capable of emitting the hypno-light, which they used to subdue their victims prior to snatching them up. And why all the snatching? Because the creatures were brain powered! They would suck out people’s brains.
I’d like to report that Skyline was completely thrilling and inventive, but it wasn’t. The acting was OK, though character development was scant. The action is limited exclusively to the apartment building, which doesn’t provide for very inspired or exciting human/alien encounters. The creatures were interesting, but their design was a rip-off of previous movie monsters, most notably the tentacled flying machines from the Matrix movies and the spindly aliens from Independence Day. The monsters were confusing, too. I’m pretty sure the behemoths were flesh and blood, but I’m not sure if the tentacled ones were biological entities, mechanical machines or a combination of both. I’m also not sure how many different types there were. We never know anything about them. They just show up and start chasing people down for their brains. The creatures seemed dependent on brain power to function, and if the brain is removed, they would drop to the ground and seemingly die. But then they would spring up again, so I’m not sure how the brains really fit into the equation. It would have been nice to have been able to understand more about the aliens’ biology and how they functioned, but that would have required more thought than simply setting the stage for an effects-driven game of alien cat and Homo sapien mouse.
And then there’s the ending, which takes place inside one of the big ships. We get a gooey peek at the alien environment, but this scene turns out to make no sense. And then the movie ends totally abruptly. It was as if the money ran out and that was that – end it! A series of still photographs accompany the end credits, presumably to provide some closure. But no matter how you sliced it, the ending sucked. I found myself leaving the theater thinking, “But how could….why did…how come…?” It was stupid.
Skyline, while it had some interesting moments, was middling alien-invasion fare. I preferred War of the Worlds, both the 1953 original, with its ultra-cool, manta ray-like spaceships, as well as Spielberg’s remake. I liked Independence Day better, too. Heck, I even enjoyed Mars Attacks! way more than Skyline. In terms of alien-inflicted chaos, I think the first big destruction sequence from Independence Day has yet to be topped. Of course, Independence Day holds a special place in my heart because the guy who saves the world – Randy Quaid’s drunken pilot – was named Russell Case. I remember when I saw the movie for the first time with a bunch of friends – we all laughed out loud when his name was spoken. The people in the theater sitting near us must’ve wondered what we were laughing about. District 9, too, is pretty terrific, though it’s not really in the vein of these other invasion-type movies.
Skyline was disappointing, but there are two alien invasion movies on the horizon for 2011, and judging by their trailers, they look promising (yes, I know, trailers cannot be trusted). One is Battle: Los Angeles, where, once again, Los Angeles is the setting for more theater-rocking explosions and alien mayhem. Then there’s Cowboys & Aliens, the new movie by Jon Favreau (who directed, among other movies, Iron Man) with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. I just saw the trailer for it last night, and you know what? I’m so there!
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