Los Angeles again receives an extraterrestrial boot to the face that a group of attractive twenty-something's must avoid in Skyline, a surprisingly entertaining sci-fi effects showcase from the Brothers Strause. Though not completely undeserving of the critical drubbing it received upon release last fall, Skyline nicely stages the panic that surely would ensure if aliens started harvesting earthlings by the thousands. Its flashy visual effects cannot fully overcome a stunted narrative, but Skyline is at least superficially engaging.
Graphic artist Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) fly to Los Angeles for their big-shot friend Terry's (Donald Faison) birthday party. Early the next morning, bright lights descend from the heavens and anchor amid the urban sprawl. These hypnotizing blue lights pull those in range out of their homes and into the bellies of huge alien spacecrafts. After the first attack, the three friends, along with Terry's assistant Denise (Crystal Reed) and girlfriend Candice (Brittany Daniel), hunker down inside Terry's apartment to avoid the chaos outside. Survival becomes more difficult when alien transports begin sweeping the city for survivors.
Directors Colin and Greg Strause are introduced on Skyline's box art not as the directors of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem but as "the visual effects masterminds behind Avatar, Iron Man 2 and 300." The Brothers Strause have not perfected the art of filmmaking with their second feature, but they do seem to have a grasp on visual effects. Skyline gets its name from the view of Los Angeles seen from Terry's apartment, where much of the action takes place. Most of Skyline was filmed in Greg Strause's condominium complex, and the film benefits from such a visually arresting central location. From their vantage point on the penthouse floor, the group witnesses the city crumble around them, as illustrated by some impressive special effects.
First, what I liked about Skyline. The filmmakers wisely forego all the witty commentary usually spouted amid a crisis and cut straight to the panic. The characters are confused and scared as hell, and they act accordingly. There's a lot of yelling, crying and, as depicted in one scene set in the parking garage, running to stay alive. Skyline captures the pure hopelessness I suspect would follow an alien invasion. Characters are unceremoniously squashed and sucked from safety, and no innocent bystander is safe. What Skyline lacks in global scope it makes up for in immediacy. And really, who cares what is happening in London if the Los Angeles outside the door is fast becoming a living hell? The effects also are pretty impressive, too. Not Avatar impressive, but good enough that they seamlessly blend into the action staged in the film's most complex shots. I also liked the film's bleak and shocking ending.
Skyline does not have a 4-and-change on IMDb because the Internet trolls are still pissed at Balfour for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Skyline's narrative is mostly episodic and repetitive. The aliens attack in waves; the characters react and then attempt a bold escape. Repeat. The acting also is spotty, but what does one expect from such a diverse group of thespians? Saying that Skyline suffers from a case of style over substance is not so much a criticism as an apt description of the film. Sure, two characters share an incredibly stupid mid-air kiss, and Balfour has at most four facial expressions. The Brothers Strause were not trying to make Citizen Kane here.
Despite its questionable dramatic attributes, Skyline is a decent effects time-waster best served at full volume and with a generous side of booze. The special effects are better than expected, and the brothers' shooting style is confident if bordering on ostentatious. I may stand alone with my verdict for Skyline, but I definitely wasn't bored.
Universal's 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very strong, and Skyline appears on DVD without noticeable flaws. Detail is often outstanding; wide shots of Los Angeles are crisp and deep, and close-ups reveal detail down to the pores on the actors' faces. The entire image is bold, colorful and completely lacking in obtrusive compression artifacts and edge enhancement. A thin layer of grain gives the film an attractive natural appearance, and even the darkest scenes never appear washed out amid the inky blacks. The transfer also handles the effects blending exceptionally well, and Skyline looks at all times slick and polished.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is similarly strong. Dialogue is clear and robust, as is the film's soundtrack. The track hits some pretty heavy highs and lows, and it has a realistically chaotic feel during some of the more intense sequences. Effects emanate from the surrounds, and the track gives the subwoofer a strong rattling. This is a very loud, very impressive track. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks and a descriptive video track also are available, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
The Brothers Strause lend their voices to all of the disc's extras. Two feature-length commentaries are available, the first from the directors and the second from co-writer/producer Liam O'Donnell and co-writer/producer Joshua Cordes. Viewers who hate the film will likely be greatly irritated by both tracks, as the filmmakers seem pretty confident that they have created a hit. The tracks seem to have been recorded before the film's release, so there is quite a bit of optimism about its box office potential and the possibility of a sequel. Despite all the annoying back patting, there is a lot of interesting information to be gained about the shoot, effects and editing within the commentaries. Neither the deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary from the directors (6:45) nor the alternate scenes with optional commentary (2:35) are particularly great, but the brothers provide some funny insights to their rough pre-visualizations (10:03). The film's teaser and theatrical trailers round out the extras. The trailers also feature optional commentary from the directors, and I enjoyed hearing about their battles with the studio over what surprises to keep in the trailers.
Skyline may be slick and shallow, but it provides an entertaining ride through the chaos of an alien invasion. Viewers willing to overlook the episodic plot and spotty acting can enjoy the impressive visual effects and on-location thrills. Universal's DVD provides excellent picture and sound and some worthwhile extras. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.