Toxic Skies has an interesting set up, even if the film fails to really capitalize on it. When the movie begins, a strange and mysterious disease is starting to spread across the country and no one seems to really know how or why. Once it starts spreading, people start dropping like flies left right and center. Enter Dr. Tess Martin (Anne Heche), the best virologist in the country. She's on the job and trying to help solve this problem but she's got a deep, dark secret in her past that might prevent her from doing so. Thankfully, hope lies in the form of Jack Bowen (James Tupper), a man who plays by his own rules and who knows more about this mysterious outbreak than anyone realizes.
Toxic Skies is remarkable only for how unremarkable it is. This is pretty much a by the numbers conspiracy film that really brings nothing new to the table. The film benefits from an interesting premise - chemical trails exist up there in the sky (hence the title - the skies are toxic, got it?), spread by jet fuel for nefarious corporate purposes. They are responsible for very bad things happening to a populace that may or may not deserve it. The problem with this is that the movie really doesn't do very much at all to exploit this premise. It's more of a very thin subplot than the actual core of the movie and that's a shame because some quick Google research will prove that 'chemtrails' are a pretty interesting subject and could make for an interesting movie. Toxic Skies, however, is not that movie.
What appears to be the biggest problem here is the budget. This was obviously made without massive studio backing and Heche, while not the star she once was, obviously isn't working in the picture for nothing. This appears to have left t he filmmakers with precious few resources available for things like sets, effects, or interesting location shooting. A large majority of the film takes place inside a single building and anyone hoping for some gooey, gory chemical/infection effects will be left sorely disappointed.
The film also makes a very large mistake in that it pushes the whole chemtrails plot out of the way in favor of Martin's background and history, one which is ripe with unnecessary melodrama that adds little to nothing to the plot itself. Heche would have been an interesting choice to play a character in a conspiracy theory film like this - after all, she's pretty open about talking to aliens and about believing herself to be a reincarnation of God, so she's obviously working on a different level than most people- but she's not really given much of a chance to delve into it. She's not a half bad actress despite her, shall we say 'personality quirks,' but there's little for her to do here but to look worried and feel sorry for those infected with the plague that's spreading so quickly. She's less Agent Scully and more Dr. Quinn.
There's really little more to say about this film. It's not exciting, it's not tense, and despite the opportunity to delve into some interesting conspiracy theories, it's not particularly unique either. Heche doesn't bring much of note to the role and her interactions with Tupper are flat. His character exists only to help hers move along and 'believe' what he has to say and is nothing more than a very basic plot device. The film is neither entertaining or well made and you really have to have a pretty high tolerance for melodrama and bad pacing to find much, if anything, of interest here.
Toxic Skies arrives on DVD in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen, which appears to be the right aspect ratio for the film. The progressive scan transfer generally looks fine with nice, natural looking color reproduction. Black levels could have been stronger but they're not bad and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression. There is some noticeable edge enhancement here and there and some digital scrubbing looks to have removed some facial detail and replaced it with waxy skin tones, but this isn't a constant problem, it's fairly sporadic. Those issues aside, this isn't a bad looking effort on Image's part.
The sole audio track on this disc is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround Sound track with optional subtitles offered up in English and Spanish. Channel separation is frequent and the levels are always well balanced ensuring that the dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and while this is hardly demo material, the movie sounds fine and doesn't suffer from any audible defects of note.
Aside from a very plain, static menu and chapter selection the only extra on this disc is the film's trailer (2:06) which is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Image's DVD release of Toxic Skies looks okay and sounds just fine but its barebones nature doesn't do this bland film any favors. The performances are decent enough but the storyline definitely has a 'been there, done that' feeling to it that won't go away. Conspiracy theory may get more out of it than the average viewer but unless you fall into that category, this is an easy film to walk away from. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.