Thursday, November 18, 2010

Skyline (15)

Aliens and alienation battle it out in Skyline
Directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause
Written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell

There's no doubt that Skyline is a remarkable film. It is remarkably bad. It is remarkable that $10 million have been spent on this preposterous pile of junk. Of course, Los Angeles churns out poor cinema by the canyon-full, but Skyline goes way beyond simply being poor. It is the worst movie I have ever paid to see. I therefore want to explain why, almost as an act of self-cleansing.

A bunch of people are in a plush LA apartment block. I could tell you vaguely who they are, and the reasons the plot would say they were there, but you really don't need to know that. Knowing it would add nothing. All you need to know is that the real reason they are in the apartment block is they need to be trapped somewhere quite high up when the aliens come, and it has to be a plush apartment block so the blinds do certain things.

The aliens do come. They kind of hypnotise bystanders using these blue beams, bystanders who then float up to the sky, where we later discover they have their brains ripped out. People who see this kind of thing going on don't particularly want it to happen to them, so they hide, or try to escape. As a last resort, they fight them. One man - I won't dignify him with the word 'character' - even punches one. Yes, he punches a gargantuan thing from another world, a thing that has already demonstrated its resilience and vast technological superiority. But that's not the most ridiculous thing about it; the punching tactic actually works.

Skyline is a film that is entirely built around the special effects. It's as if the 'Brothers Strause' actually sat down to watch say Close Encounters of the Third Kind, saw the giant ship, and thought 'We could do those effects so much better these days; how can we make a film that would allow us to string a series of set piece visuals together?'

So plot devices are (very obviously) lifted from just about every alien movie you've ever seen, and possibly even World Invasion: Battle LA, which isn't out yet, but for which the Brothers served as visual effects designers. There is literally no character development, and the dialogue could easily have been written by a ten year old. Personal motivation - including that of the aliens - is considered an irrelevance. "Does it really matter?", as one man said to another. The second man had wondered aloud what the hell the aliens might be playing at. This earned him the contempt of his companion, maybe because including their motivation in the script could lead to a Stealth bomber bounce being written out or something.

This is not about whether or not you like action films. It's about the directors not worrying about whether their audiences care about the people in the action film. It's about massive, overwhelming hugeness, signifying nothing. It's about writers who have probably never experienced anything interesting, who fail to show us anything interesting.

B movies have a long history, and over the last decade there's been a slew of films deconstructing the clichés of so-called 'genre films', giving us a few laughs on the way. But for all that Skyline is laughably dreadful, I get the sense that the production team took it damned seriously. The 1980s Spielberg-esque orchestral swells blatantly tell us when to be happy and sad - because the script can't - but it's all done entirely without irony.

The Strauses funded this effort themselves, and that's their decision. Perhaps they wanted to showcase what they could do visually for other people's films. But it's high time that writers with something to say were paired up with production people who could match their vision. In these times of economic strain and political change, there are many new stories to tell. The success of TV shows like The Wire, Mad Men and The Tudors shows that the potential audience is out there, and hungry for something different.
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