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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Falling Skies: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Falling Skies: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Other // Unrated // June 5, 2012 // Region A
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 29, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:
It's hard being a fan of science fiction.  It's respectable to be a horror buff, and fantasy has becomes well respected since Harry Potter and especially Game of Thrones, but when someone mentions that they like SF, the statement is usually met with surprised snickers or back-handed compliments like "you don't look like it!"   What makes it worse is that some of the best SF TV series seem to get cancelled way too soon (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Jericho, etc.) while other mediocre shows get renewed, just reinforcing the popular view that all SF is juvenile or silly.  Case in point:  Falling Skies a potentially cool show that misses the mark on several fronts but will start airing new shows this June.

It's been six months since the aliens invaded, and in that time the armies of the world have been destroyed along with much of humanity.  Mankind has been reduced to small groups of people clinging together for protection against the aliens, six-legged creatures and their bipedal robotic warriors dubbed "skitters."  These creatures are doing something, building giant tower-like structures but their purpose is not clear.  One thing is for certain, they're seeking out human children to use for slave labor after making them docile by attaching a "harness" to their back, an alien device that forces metal spikes into the victim's spinal column.  If they're removed, the host dies.
As the series begins a large contingent of survivors is being broken up.  It's been determined that the skitters can detect groups of humans 600 and larger, so sections of 300 people, 200 civilians and 100 'fighters,' are being split off and separating.  The Massachusetts 2nd, is one such group and it's second in command is Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) who used to be a history professor (specializing in US and military history) serving under the gruff Captain Weaver (Will Patton).

The 2nd Mass walks for days and eventually discovers a school that they make their base.  From here Weaver sends out parties to gather supplies.  Tom, his oldest son Hal (Drew Roy), Hal's girlfriend Karen (Jessy Schram), and a couple of other fighters make up one such group, and while scavenging for food they discover a group of harnessed kids working for the skitters, including Tom's missing son Ben (Connor Jessup).  He wants to launch a rescue operation, but Weaver doesn't want to risk the men, especially when obtaining Ben won't do them any good since they can't remove the harness.  Things change when a doctor arrives who has figured out how to take the harnesses off without killing the children, in theory.  He's never tested it, but Tom is willing to risk it.  All he has to do is rescue his child from an alien stronghold.
This show is very derivative of other SF programs that have come before, and that's too bad.  It's a good concept, post-apocalyptic shows are nearly always interesting, but this one falls short in part because it has all been done before, and better.  It's like the mixed together parts from Battlestar Galactica, Jerico, Walking Dead, Alien Nation, and War of the Worlds, but only the bad parts. They've left out the complexity, mystery, and engaging characters that drove the best of those shows.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this show is the lack of character development.  All of the people start out as flat stereotypes and they pretty much end the series that way too.  That's because everyone is defined by two character traits at most.  Tom is the devoted father who wants to do the right thing, Weaver is the gruff leader who has a soft spot that he is desperate to hide, the hot female doctor is strong but vulnerable.  You get the picture.  They're all characters we've seen before.  Because of that there's no reason to care for them or really become engaged to what happens. 
So it's not a character driven piece.  That's fine if the plots are interesting and they create a detailed, intricate world that unravels over the course of the series.  Unfortunately that doesn't happen either.  The world of Falling Skies doesn't make sense on several levels.  Take the skitters:  a machine gun blasting away has almost no effect on them from 10 yards away, but a shotgun blast to the head from 10 feet away kills them.  What?  How does that work?  Several times characters will say "you have to get close" but it's never explained why a .45 will take off a skitter leg at close range but a high powered rifle won't at a moderate distance. 

There doesn't seem to be much fear of skitters attacking either.  The survivors walk around outside during the day and they go searching for food/supplies on loud motorcycles.  And there's 300 of them holed up in an old school.  They'd generate a fair amount of waste/garbage, so it should be easy for the aliens to find them since they aren't moving.  And the skitters do want to kill humans, apparently.  Any stockpile of food or supplies that they discover they don't destroy.  Instead they plant guards to wait, and wait, and wait, hoping that some humans will show up so they can kill them.  What?  That seems incredibly man-power intensive.  And why are only some of the adults 'fighters?'  They show several able bodied males that are just civilians.  Wouldn't a condition of being in the group be that you had to fight if you could?  Why do they seem to have an infinite supply of ammunition?  Where do they get the food to feed 300 people a day, and why is it that they only found oatmeal and lima beans?  I could go on, but you get the point.
The plots for the shows are full of holes too.  A band of bandits captures a woman, spends months gang raping her, and then they give her a gun and tells her to guard some prisoners.  What were they thinking??  That she'd gotten over the whole rape thing?  The significant other of one of the main characters in captured in an early episode, and it's not a big deal.  The guy pretty much just shrugs and forgets about her.  Gee, that's loyalty.

They go for a lot of predictable plots too.  There is the subplot about the needs of the civilians vs. those of the military, (which was done much better on BSG), a story about the one's obligation to one's family compared with his obligation to the community, and of course the tried and true "we have to stand together or we'll fall separately" plot when the civilians baulk at a military order.
It's not all bad however.  The special effects are passable, and there is some modicum of suspense in several episodes.  The battle scenes, though often over too quickly, are well staged and entertaining too.  The acting is very good too, with Noah Wyle breathing more life into his role than I would have thought possible.  Will Patton is also excellent as the grim and gruff leader, and Colin Cunningham, who plays a gang leader, is the most realistic and interesting character on the show.

The program does get better as it progresses too, but just not good enough or fast enough.  While watching this, I kept returning to the fact that could be a very good program if there were some non-trivial changes.  It's too bad that it isn't.
The Blu-ray:

The first season's ten episodes arrive on two Blu-ray discs housed in a custom pressboard case.  The two discs are overlapping, which I really don't like, and the case itself seems a bit flimsy.
The show comes with a nice 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that packs quite a wallop.  The subwoofer gets a good workout during some of the short battle scenes which is nice to see in a TV show.  The rears aren't used as much as I would like, but when they are employed it works well.  The dialog is mixed well with the sound effects with neither one overwhelming the other.  Overall this is a very nice sounding show.   
The 1.78:1 1080p image is quite good.  There's a high level of detail present and fine lines are strong, even in dark areas.  The earthy color scheme comes through accurately and the blacks are nice and inky.  There is some noticeable banding in a few scenes, and there's a little grain that's most certainly intentional in a few spots, but aside from that it's a nice looking set. 
The series comes with a couple of okay extras, though nothing too exciting.  First off are several commentary tracks to various episodes.  The video extras include two very short behind-the-scenes featurettes, The Unknown and The Second Mass.  Both of these run about three minutes each and are pretty cursory.  I would have liked a nice half hour docu instead.  There's also the Falling Skies Panel from the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con which has the cast discussing the series for a little over 20 minutes.  If you wondered how they made the skitters, there's a four minute featurette on the CGI that went into their creation too.  Exclusive to Blu-ray is a look at the comic book from Dark Horse which fleshes out the series a bit.  Finally there's a sneak peek at season two that I'm sure fans will be eager to see. 
Final Thoughts:
While this isn't a total waste, it's not nearly as good as it could be.  The show has a lot of promise, but the trite plots, paper-thin characters, and poorly thought out aliens mar this show too much to recommend it.  I wasn't sorry I watched the whole season however.  It's only 10 episodes long and it does improve slightly as it goes along.  SF fans who are looking for anything to watch might want to give this a rental.
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