Monday, November 29, 2010


Resistance is Futile

District 9 probably rejuvenated the science fiction subgenre of an alien presence / invasion on Earth all over again, with no less than three films lined up close to one another that tackle just that - Skyline being the first, then Monsters followed by World Invasion: Battle LA, where the latter had caused the Brothers Strause's Hydraulx effects company probable woes since there is what's deemed to be conflicting interest in The Social Network sense. That aside, Skyline demonstrates that an independently funded film is still feasible, with the usual merits and expected demerits that come with an effects laden movie, but certainly not one that deserved the kind of backlash that it got.

The Brothers Strause Colin and Greg, responsible for AvP Requiem, bring their visual effects wizardry and know-how to making a film that's skewed toward being just that - a special effects extravaganza. How else can you explain the 10 million dollar effects cost against everything else that was budgeted for 0.5 million. Granted that this film was made on the cheap in Hollywood terms, the look and feel was polished, and there can be no qualms about its effects quality, but the story by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell let it down somewhat.

Unlike District 9, Skyline didn't have anything new to add to the genre, deciding to repeatedly give audiences what we have already seen in a number of genre films, putting them altogether into a single film, be it the Matrix-like sentinels, large spaceships bursting out of the cloudy sky, War of the Worlds like tension between nasty aliens and humans silently hoping everything will turn out fine, with shadows of Transformers, the harvesting of humans for some dastardly alien plan, an Independence Day equivalent of an all out air strike against the aliens albeit with updated weaponry and planes, or even a human-alien hybrid of sorts that opens up the film for a franchise to happen. You're begging for one original thought that the filmmakers could come up with, and you'll find it really tough to get one.

What it did successfully translate however, is how everything was doomed from the start, and gradually we get to realize it's no way out for all the characters, since every conceivable plan that they, and we, come up with, get closed, and closed good. The protagonists are stuck in a penthouse condominium, and escape outside into what's essentially the alien ships vacuum cleaning the entire city of LA of people doesn't sound like a good idea, with the bigger world out there at large, zero communications and a zilch mass media, means questions are constantly raised, with no clear answers.

This fear factor was what I thought the Brothers had successfully translated on screen instead, and frankly will be something quite close to what you or I will do when we panic, and let fear creep in. After all, aliens of all shapes and sizes, flying or on the ground, forcefully ensures every single human being in their sights get sucked into their bodies in the most unsavoury of terms. Think of it as reverse birth, where humans get sucked into what's essentially looks like an alien vagina with plenty of goo, mucus and muck, sometimes with the aid of tentacles shaped like umbilical cords. Bickering is common, with no alpha males stepping up to lead the way because, well, everyone gets picked off one by one.

Characters were expectedly cardboard, although the story did take some unnecessary and uninteresting pains to give us a little bit of a background of those whom we follow. Alas, somehow there's a profound lack of interest in the rich and famous, who stay in swanky apartments and drive cars with the prancing horse logo. There isn't the blue collar, hard worker to root for, and seriously, a bunch of rich pansies don't quite cut it for a film like this where it's about survival of the fittest aided by street smarts. Then again, it does go to show rich or poor, we bite the dust in the same manner when faced with common danger threatening our lives, that Death (by way of Aliens or otherwise) evens the playing field. The premise - you're stuck in a building where all else outside, and soon inside turns into Ground Zero, what will you do?

And also, I suppose films that trumpet the American military might will get the kind of support it does back home, with films like Independence Day and even Transformers 1 and 2, which made it seem like an advertisement for the US Military. Here the military response seems muted and had taken a backseat (well, the budget could be a prime reason), but for what it can muster with the drones and warplanes, one nuke, and a couple of gung-ho boots on ground heli-dropped to nearby rooftops, it isn't the all out war that many perhaps have wanted to see the US forces driving the unwelcome guests away.

With a more original idea and story development to boot, perhaps Skyline could have lived up to its promises and matched the quality of effects put on screen. There's a deliberate void of verbatim answers here, with the filmmakers preferring to keep some cards close to their chest, such as an origin of sorts, or explanation why things occur the way they did, since we're observing from the third person point of view, and the narrative hardly following anyone who has got an idea or a remote clue on what's exactly happening. It's a setup for a follow up film, especially the ending montage, so let's let's hope the area of storytelling gets shored up to develop and add to its mythos.

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