Skyline
Universal // PG-13 // $39.98 // March 22, 2011
Review by Bill Gibron | posted March 6, 2011
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Product:
The story behind line last year's yucky Skyline is far more interesting than anything up on the screen (you'll see in a couple of paragraphs). Apparently, Sony hired Hydraulx to do the F/X work on their forthcoming $100 million blockbuster, Battle: Los Angeles. Imagine the studio's surprise then when the Brothers Stause (Greg and Colin), two important cogs in the production company, came out with their own plans for an alien invasion film called Skyline. Lawsuits and denials flew and the media was filled with interviews and accusations. Then the proposed low budget rip-off arrived in theaters and quickly tanked. Soon, the producers were complaining about the poisonous pre-publicity and arguing that mainstream movie critics didn't "appreciate" the vision on display. Apparently, these people see things with different eyes than the rest of rational society. Skyline is a shambles, a trainwreck of a movie that is only watchable for fleeting moments of sci-fi spectacle. Sony has little to worry about - unless, of course, the stench created by the Strauses here somehow manages to infest their own attempted Independence Day.

The Plot:
When they were young, photographer Jarrod and his best buddy Terry were fledgling rappers. Now, a few sensible years later, the former is still struggling with his camera, while the other is living large as a major league hip hop impresario. Traveling out to LA to see his former friend, Jarrod brings his grating gal pal Elaine along. It's all part of a birthday celebration smash being held at Terry swank penthouse pad. Eventually, our couple converges on the digs and are quickly introduced to Suge Knight Jr.'s sullen sweetheart Candice, his perky assistant/mistress Denise, and a truly boorish PA called Ray. Eventually, the truth comes out - Terry wants Jarrod to move out to Cali and work for him. Elaine is resistant as she's just found out she's preggers (?). Of course, none of this matter when, post-party, they wake up to a full scale alien invasion. Hung over and helpless, the group decides to flee. When that option doesn't work, they take up with the building's concierge to settle in...and survive.

The Blu-ray:
How did the Brothers Strause screw this up? It's like crafting a bad piece of chocolate, or finding a way to make Ricky Gervais unfunny. It's a surefire premise, one made even more viable by the advances in modern CG technology and F/X, and the trailer promised a potent bit of Armageddon-like alien invasion. But god damn is Skyline ever crappy. It's as if these former first-run special effects wizards walked out one day, were each struck on the head by a large piece of concrete block, and then decided to make an epic extraterrestrial action thriller with little or no drive or imagination. Sure, they get the eye candy down pat, but then that's the easy bit, right? Dudes usually do said for a living. No, where Skyline stinks is everywhere around the space junk. The acting is uniformly poor, the scripting is atrocious, the narrative drive is almost non-existent, and whenever the movie feels fed up and begs to go home, the guys drag out that ditzy blue light and we are supposed to be enthralled again. Instead of focusing on the one thing that makes these kind of movies work - scope - the dudes deaden anything epic by centering all the action (that's A-L-L the action) in a single apartment building setting. How very pseudo-Signs of you.

You see, what it lacks in invention or originality, Skyline hopes to make up for with unorthodox approach. Sadly, Mel Gibson's coincidence ridden farm was already utilized for a single POV set-up for an all out apocalypse, and even M. Night Shyamalan had the decency not to tease us with outsized visualization. If the Brothers Strause wanted to keep the calamity down and centered on a single group of people, then do a Cloverfield on the material and make the invasion part of some movie in production. This is LA after all, a stone's throw away from a supposedly thriving film industry (or so we're often told). Don't just have our nonexistent character placeholders hang out in a ritzy penthouse flat and gawk at the goofy crap happening outside the window. Indeed, Skyline can't even get that stagnancy right. Instead, we get a mid-act retreat to the parking garage so that an alien the size of a small country can come careening out of the backdrop and go Godzilla on everyone. Aside from the inherent logic issues such a massive beast insinuates (how do the relatively small motherships carry so many of these behemoths, and why are they several stories tall one moment, then barely towering over the palm trees the next?) and the undisclosed purpose of the attack (something to do with brain eating???) Skyline gives 'confusing' a new, even more nonsensical definition.

There are so many unanswered questions here that it frequently resembles a star high school athlete's SAT test. What's even more disconcerting is how little the many queries matter. From the stolen "squiddies" that should have the Brothers Wachowski suing to the Invasion from Mars skull snacking, Skyline is a movie lifted from several scattered sources, but the Strauses only seem to steal the evocations, not the explanations. Of course, if the cast were better, we might find ourselves believing in this ambiguous dung more. It's easy to sum up the scenery meat here - whiny. They're worse than Karl Pilkington on a holiday in the Amazon. They complain, kvetch, and carp like adolescents being grounded for the first time. None of it helps, since they tend to die off with indistinct randomness, and the Brothers believe that nothing really satisfies more than a good starship crash or oddly sedate nuclear explosion, so investment in the characters be damned. All over the map and wrong for a myriad of reasons, Skyline stumbles within a paradigm so surefire that only complete idiots could mess it up. While one assumes a potential positivity in the Brothers Strause aesthetic IQ, this movie makes them more Stanley Kowalski than Stanley Kubrick.

The Video:
Let's make one thing perfectly clear - no matter the meaningless mung being tossed up on the screen, the actual Blu-ray release here looks terrific. The image is polished and pristine, with a 1080p/AVC encode that really captures the limited scope and space in many of the scenes. Interior shots are captured with colorful control, the frame filled with lots of IKEA level interior designs, while exterior moments loose none of their detail or dimension. The HD upgrade does illustrate some of the budgetary limitations within the film, especially the numerous night vision shots of the rampaging monsters. They look horribly fake. Still, the 2.40:1 transfer is wonderful, with deep blacks and solid contrasts. There are no visible flaws, except for the inherent aspects of filmmaking violated by those behind the lens.

The Audio:
Equally strong is the sound situation here. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is terrific, bringing a real sense of aural scope to the proceedings. When the survivors head to the roof to see what's going on, the ambient nature of a LA under siege is captured brilliantly. Similarly, there are sequences of directional dynamic as the action moves across, above, and back behind the viewer. Conversations are always clear, which means we hear every hackneyed sentiment spoken. One thing the aural element really overemphasizes is the horrific score by Matthew Margeson. Cheddar isn't as cheesy as this hyper-orchestrated mishmash. Nothing singles a lack of real dramatics than a handwringing bit of musical support. Sheesh.

The Extras:
Oh boy - get ready. There are two separate commentary tracks here and one is more self-congratulatory than the next. First up, the Brothers show up to defend themselves, again arguing that critics like yours truly are clueless for not "getting" this particular film. Right. Then the co-writers and co-producers of this turkey - Liam O'Donnell and Joshua Cordes - argue for its basic b-movie relevance. Sure. It's clear these guys are proud of what they accomplished, and bully for them. Trying to sell us on the same is a stretch. We are also treated to a collection of deleted and extended scenes, some alternative scenes (the difference being...?), a bit of pre-visualization, and a collection of trailers. Toss in the standard BD Live and pocketBLU app abilities and you've got a premier example of the format circa 2011.

Final Thoughts:
Here's the rub with Skyline - it should have been so, so, so much better. It should have captured our mainstream mind's eye and then leapt off the screen with a kind of imagination and intensity that propelled it into the lexicon of sci-fi classics. Instead, it sticks to the psyche like a rancid dog turd and then proceeds to pollute everything around it. Want proof? Battle: Los Angeles is finally opening this week, and critics are already clamoring in a desperate hope that it's not "another Skyline". Such instantly flop recognition definitely deserves a rating of Skip It, but since the film has a couple of interesting F/X sequences, and a relatively tricked out Blu-ray release, a Rent It seems more appropriate. It's the perfect balance between reality and retail. Make no mistake about it - Skyline sucks. The amount of cinematic sputum you experience will be in direct proportion of how much leeway you're willing to give the bumbling brothers. In this case, the answer is 'little to none.'



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