November 13, 2010 by Paul Curtin
Skyline marks the second big film directed by Colin and Greg Strause (aka The Brothers Strause), two brothers who directed 2007’s less-than-stellar Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, but who also have two of the most impressive résumés for visual effects in the business with their work on blockbuster films such as The Incredible Hulk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2012, Avatar, Iron Man 2, and the very similar upcoming alien invasion thriller Battle: Los Angeles.
Similar to 2005’s Dawn of the Dead and 2009’s Cloverfield, Skyline puts the viewer right alongside the characters in the film as they’re forced to try and survive a mysterious catastrophic event. The acting from Skyline‘s B-list cast is passable at best, but with any alien invasion movie, all that really matters is the action and the aliens. The mechanized alien ships look straight out of the video game Crysis, and the aliens themselves have an impressive art direction and make for great shots while they’re invading the city.
Skyline tries to differentiate itself from the pack by having a unique take on the whole alien invasion angle: Instead of coming to Earth, blowing everything up, and killing all humans (à la Independence Day), Skyline‘s aliens are focused on abducting Earth’s most important resource, the humans themselves. The aliens use beams of radiant blue light to hypnotically attract humans and then seize control of their bodies, in a similar fashion to Medusa from Greek mythology. Seeing massive alien ships appear out of nowhere and suck up thousands of humans is pretty bad-ass, and it’s a shame there wasn’t a bigger budget for more detail to go into the effect. Although the visual effects look poor in some areas, overall they’re very impressive, especially for only being on a budget of around $10 million. There’s no doubting that the Strause brothers are amazing at visual effects, even with so little resources.
The problem with the movie is while it all sounds good on paper, the execution and end result is terrible. Unlike Cloverfield, which had its characters exploring a chaotic New York City, Skyline is almost entirely shot in the penthouse of a high-rise apartment (obviously in an effort to keep production costs down). There are tons of shots of the characters watching Los Angeles being invaded from a distance, but the characters themselves never get into any of the real action.
There are other strange decisions regarding the plot, which can probably be attributed to the budget, such as the excuse the characters use to not turn the TV on at night so it won’t attract the aliens, but then leave it off and sit around doing nothing in the daytime… huh? Even the trailer has clips of news reporters discussing alien invasions. The movie would have been way more interesting with the characters watching the television or using the internet more than they do (like any normal person would in their situation) to see what’s going on through the course of the attacks.
Unfortunately, the film’s biggest strength is also its biggest flaw. The special effects are so good that in certain scenes Skyline looks like it has the potential to hold its own with other hundred million dollar blockbusters, and while the impressive visuals in some scenes are enough to keep you interested and rooting for the movie to get better, it sadly never does and turns into one big letdown. There is a unique twist at the end that you won’t be expecting and could take a potential next film in a completely different direction, but I won’t give away any more details that could spoil it. Audiences are sure to be divided over whether the ending was the right way to go.
The fact that Skyline was made on a budget of only $10 million is what’s most impressive about the film, especially when you consider films like Cloverfield having over twice the budget at $25 million and ID4 being made for $75 million fifteen years ago. The bigger budgeted Battle: Los Angeles ($70 million) looks to be more promising with a stronger cast, different director, and the Strause brothers sticking to what they do best, the visual effects. Skyline gets 2 out of 5 stars (Okay).