Saturday, 16 April 2011

Skyline-Review by Gavin Jennings.

I have temporarily abandoned my most recent project to offer you my thoughts on this heavily criticised effort from the Brothers Strause. I watched Skyline the other night and whilst I am still a little unsure as to how I actually feel about the film I do not necessarily agree with the masses that it deserves to be struck down and cast into the pit along with celluloid abominations like Transmorphers 2 and Alien vs. Hunter.

To be able to make an informed opinion about Skyline it helps to first understand who the Brothers Strause are. Real life siblings Colin & Greg and have been visual effects artists since the mid 1990’s. Their career began as technicians working on X Files episodes and big pictures like Nutty Professor and Volcano. They also worked on the iceberg sequence on James Cameron’s Titanic. Soon afterward they came up with that stupid nickname and started their own FX Company, Hydraulx. Their impressive resume, largely 20th Century Fox films, includes 300, X-men, Avatar, Fantastic four, Terminator 3, and Day after tomorrow, which earned Greg a BAFTA. Their big directorial debut in movies was the 2007 follow-up to Alien vs. Predator, another Fox franchise. Although initially quite promising it was released to negative reviews from critics and it was berated by true fans of the genre. Despite being fans themselves they failed to make the movie that we were all hoping for, it was riddled with action movie cliche's, poor characters and trite dialogue. It was overly dark which spoilt a lot of the gore and ruined the creature design. The much anticipated Pred-alien hybrid turned out to be little more than a bit-part character. In all fairness through it has never been made clear on how much input the studio had over the brothers. Ultimately all Fox wanted was a movie that would make enough money, even if it meant upsetting some fans. They would definitely have insisted on the R rating that would have exposed the film to a wider audience. This could go some way to explain why a lot of the gore was lost in the shadows. To the brothers credit they did manage to get an alien burst through a child’s chest, a first for the Alien films, and they also let the creatures loose on a hospital ward full of new born babies! We got to see the Predators home planet for the first time as well, and it was enjoyable to spot all the nods to the other films dotted throughout.

With their tales firmly between their legs the Brothers Strause stepped away from the cameras for a while. They did some FX work on the 2009 blockbuster Avatar as well as Iron man 2, and Knight and day. In Feb 2010 the brothers saw an opportunity to redeem themselves as directors and Skyline went into production. Rather than have studio financing the brothers were funding this project entirely themselves. Using their own superior knowledge of FX and shooting entirely in Greg’s apartment building they would be able to produce a blockbuster film at a fraction of the price, what could possibly go wrong?

Physical production ended in late March of that year at a cost of less than $1,000,000. The small and low rent cast comprised of largely unknown actors from US television shows, most notably Scrubs and Dexter oh, and Sweet Valley High if you can remember than one! Almost the entire Hydraulx staff produced over eight hundred intricate visual effects for the film pushing the budget up to a meagre $15,000,000. Peanuts compared to a Hollywood produced movie normally five times that amount!

The brothers found a distributor in Relativity Media and Skyline was released theatrically the following November. Critics immediately didn’t like Skyline which isn’t a surprise considering that alien invasion flicks rarely review well. Their core plots are meant to be implausible and the human characters only exist to drive the action from one special effect set up to the next. The genre is the cinema experience at its most primal, a pop corn extravaganza to be enjoyed just long enough for the credits to roll. It was never meant to be War and Peace. That being said Skyline must be an epic disaster to have upset the cinema going public right? Well yes and no. There are a number of things wrong with Skyline; it is derivative of many other sci-fi films but large pieces of the script look to have been lifted directly from specific movies. Stephen Spielberg’s War of world’s is most apparent in the scene where the characters hide from the invaders in a neighbour’s apartment and a creature sends out long tentacles to feel out its prey. The aliens themselves although fairly impressive and created by the guys who worked on the Alien films are reminiscent of the creatures seen in Independence Day. The drone army seen towards the end of the movie have a humanoid appearance with multiple eyes and look suspiciously like the Chimera foot soldiers from the Sony PS3 Resistance games. The script has some silly inconsistencies and I did wonder how the aliens had just enough time to take a break from conquering the world to waste 80 odd minutes concentrating on a few stragglers. The films third act is a bit of an overblown mess to say the least. I did roll my eyes when a US air force jet was smashed out of the sky only to land on a creature that would otherwise have succeeded in capturing the remaining survivors. Perhaps the biggest problem audiences had with Skyline though was the rather unorthodox decision of not actually having an ending to the film. I don’t want to tell you exactly what happens but if you can imagine Jaws ending just before chief Brody says ‘Smile you son of a bitch!’ or the Shining ending just as Jack breaks through the bathroom door and it goes some way as to tell you how badly Skyline ends. I’m sure the intention was to leave the film open for a follow up but given the negativity surrounding it I do wonder if it will ever get made.

To the films credit the Brothers Strause have still succeeded in making a tidy $50,000,000 profit from their little movie. I really admire their bravery in producing a film outside of Hollywood, particularly in today’s financial climate. In doing so they have been able to produce the film exactly how they wanted. This time round there are no issues with the lighting hiding the action from view, in fact it is quite the opposite since all the aliens emanate a cool looking blue glow. I also liked how the action is shot at a speed that allows us to absorb it. Far too many movies are adopting this technique of high speed editing so you can’t actually see what’s happening. Skyline allows you to see everything and is a better movie for it. Will Transformers 3 be able to do the same? I doubt it. Being able to see everything also means that the visual effects have to be even better than ever and I can honestly say that the majority of Skyline’s CGI is very impressive. It is definitely one of the films strongest assets and further enforces the fact that the Brothers Strause are up there with the best in terms of special effects. But we already knew that didn’t we, the question is can they make it in the industry as film makers? Well I for one did find some level of enjoyment in Skyline and they have shown some improvement since their last outing as directors. What I found most interesting about the film is that in producing a movie outside of the Hollywood machine they have wound up making an alien invasion movie that is decidedly anti-Hollywood. It made a refreshing change seeing the action scaled down to a bunch of nobody’s trapped and scared of what is happening around them. With no help from the armed forces or government I would have probably acted in a similar way. Their bleak outlook was the perfect remedy to Will Smith’s comedic one liners and the ending, although poorly executed was at least different to the usual ‘America saves the day’ chest pounding nonsense.

In closing I have to say that Skyline isn’t a bad film. If you are willing to view the film with an open mind you just might find it to be an enjoyable farce. If you have seen it and like the masses were appalled by it then by all means cast it into a pit but may I suggest you toss it into the one marked ‘Cult’ and not the one named ‘Crap’.
Gavin Jennings.

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