CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKYLINE
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(MICHAEL ARRUDA wakes up to find his bedroom flooded with light. He covers his eyes and goes out to the kitchen, where L.L. SOARES is helping himself to a large sandwich. The refrigerator door is open)
MA: What are you doing here?
LS: I woke up hungry.
MA: Then why not make a sandwich at YOUR house?
LS: I was out of mayo.
MA: What happened to your eyes?
(LS’s face looks burned, especially around the eyes)
LS: Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you. Don’t look out the window. If you look into the light, you’re doomed.
MA: Thanks for the warning.
LS: Actually I was hoping you’d play dumb, ignore my warning, and look out the window anyway.
MA: Maybe later. Right now, since you got me up, it’s probably a good time to review the movie SKYLINE.
LS (takes a bite of his sandwich): Good idea. Hmmm. Do you have any pickles?
MA: No. It’s your turn to start the review.
LS: Oh, okay.
(There’s a knock at the door)
MA: I’ll get it.
(MA opens to door to reveal the weird dwarf woman from the movie POLTERGIEST)
MA: Hello? What are you doing here? Don’t tell me someone is remaking POLTERGEIST now?
DWARF WOMAN: Go into the light. All are welcome.
MA: You’re in the wrong movie, sweetheart. SKYLINE tells us not to go into the light. Why don’t you go home?
DWARF WOMAN: I’d rather come in and talk about—.
(LS comes over the kicks the woman out in the hall and closes the door)
DWARF WOMAN (out in hallway): OUCH!
LS (to MA): Isn’t this your cue to complain about my abrasiveness?
MA: No. I’m no fan of POLTERGEIST, nor of that character.
LS: Are we finally seeing your dark side?
(Darth Vader-like breathing sounds come from outside the door.)
MA (to door): Sorry, no one’s home right now! (to LS) Let’s start that review.
This week, our movie is SKYLINE (2010). It begins with people waking up on a particularly strange morning where loud noises are coming from outside, and bright light has the power to hypnotize you if you look straight into it. Then, we suddenly jump back 15 hours to see Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) on a plane, going to Los Angeles from the East Coast. They’re going to visit Jarrod’s old friend Terry (Donald Faison), who has since become a wealthy rapper. After a night of partying, they will all find themselves in a morning-after nightmare.
MA: Yep, it’s the dreaded flashback routine all over again. There’s nothing that ruins the natural flow of a story more than suddenly seeing the words superimposed on the screen, “15 hours earlier.” Why can’t we just start 15 hours earlier? Or skip the earlier part and stay with the dramatic action which opens the movie? I don’t get it. And I don’t like it.
LS: In this case, it’s clear they did it to give us a teaser before the name of the film came onscreen. Then, once they grabbed us, they went back to the backstory.
Anyway, overnight, strange blue fireballs have fallen from the sky. And large, menacing space ships hover in the skyline overhead, emitting bright light. Our protagonists try to figure out their best course of action. Should they stay in the building and try to avoid the strange monsters that occasionally look in from outside, or should they make a break for it?
It looks like the whole world has been taken over by these strange aliens.
MA: I guess. The characters say the whole world has been taken over, but we don’t actually see this. We see only what they see right outside their window. I for one wasn’t that impressed by what I was seeing outside that window.
LS: Never once does this movie explain what the aliens really are, or where they came from. All we need to know is that they’re dangerous, and they don’t think twice about killing us.
Aside from the big blue spaceships, there are also big, spidery things, as well as giant monsters who stomp around outside, smashing everything that gets in their way. There are several different kinds of monsters, but they all have a similar look to them. It’s also suggested that the various alien crafts, even the big spaceships, are also living creatures, made up of organic as well as machine parts.
SKYLINE just suddenly thrusts us into this situation and shows us the survivors panicking. They have no idea what is going on or how to protect themselves. The fact that all this happens without explanation actually works very well. We are thrust into the situation just as suddenly as the main characters are, and are as much in the dark as they are (despite the fact that the aliens like to shine bright lights on us).
At one point, we see hundreds, maybe thousands, of people being sucked up into a spaceship. What do they want with us?
MA: We were supposed to see this. I thought this was a poorly constructed scene with weak special effects. It looked like a cloud of dust to me.
LS: Yeah, you do have to look pretty closely to see the tiny people.
(DARTH VADER knocks at the window.)
DARTH VADER: Unimpressive. Most unimpressive.
LS: I dunno, I liked SKYLINE. I like its pace and its adrenaline, and the actors were pretty good, too. I saw a lot of familiar faces from television here, including Balfour who has appeared in several shows over the years (including 24 and SIX FEET UNDER), Donald Faison (who many of you might recognize as Dr. Turk from the long running hospital sitcom SCRUBS) and David Zayas (who most recently has been on the Showtime series DEXTER, as Sgt. Angel Batista). I thought the characters were believable, for the most part – even if they weren’t always likable – and helped keep the movie moving at a brisk pace.
SKYLINE was directed by the Brothers Strause (Colin and Greg), who also gave us ALIENS VS PREDATORS: REQUIEM, which we actually gave a good review here at Cinema Knife Fight. I liked SKYLINE, too. I didn’t love it, but it’s dumb fun.
I really had no idea what to expect. When I saw the first trailer for SKYLINE a month or two back, it just looked like a straight-ahead alien invasion movie. Then, as the release date got closer, they released a second trailer a few weeks ago that revealed the movie also had giant monsters in it (bringing to mind CLOVERFIELD). Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this one or not. Would they be throwing in everything but the kitchen sink?
What we actually get, however, is an interesting variation on the whole WAR OF THE WORLDS scenario.
I liked SKYLINE and was pleasantly surprised by it. I give it two and a half knives. I guess I’d recommend seeing it at a matinee. If you’re interested, it’s better to see it on a big screen, but don’t pay for a full price ticket if you don’t have to.
What did you think of it, Michael?
MA: I was disappointed with SKYLINE. Seeing it back to back with MONSTERS, two movies about monstrous alien life forms arriving on earth, I didn’t like either film, but for different reasons.
The knock I gave MONSTERS was that there weren’t many monsters in it. Here, in SKYLINE, there are plenty of monsters. However, I just wasn’t impressed by the way they looked. The monsters in MONSTERS actually looked better and came off as more realistic. They just weren’t in the movie all that much. The quality of the monsters in SKYLINE reminded me less of CLOVERFIELD and more of TRANSFORMERS. In short, I thought they were kind of fake-looking, and very obvious CGI creations. I didn’t find them scary at all.
(Tentacles suddenly crash through the window and surge toward them)
LS: The aliens are coming!
MA: Nope, it’s just that idiot Squiddly, from the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
SQUIDDLY: Hey, I thought you guys would be scared!
LS: Hi Squiddly, my man. I thought you were super scary.
SQUIDDLY: No you didn’t. You’re just trying to make me feel better.
LS: Yeah, you’re right. Now get your slimy butt out of here before I make some calamari!
SQUIDDLY: Yikes! (disappears from outside the window)
MA: Wow, he slid away fast.
LS: Threatening to cook them always works.
MA: I had bigger problems with SKYLINE than just its sub-par monsters and special effects, though.
LS: Oh yeah, back to the review.
MA: I’ll start with the story. This should have been a compelling story, but for some reason, it never grabbed me. First off, the events are pretty much contained to the inside of the apartment building. Now this in itself is not a bad thing. What’s bad is all this time inside the apartment is largely wasted.
For example, there’s a scene where Terry seeks out his neighbor, an elderly gentleman who won’t let go of his tiny dog, and they’re inside the man’s apartment when the aliens break in. You hardly have time to worry about their safety when the old man is snatched away to his death. It’s a wasted scene.
There are a lot of wasted scenes like this that don’t generate the suspense you expect them to.
We also don’t get to see what’s happening in the rest of the world. I wanted to see this invasion. Again, this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re going to choose this route, then the scenes inside the apartment have got to be intense, and they’re just not.
Also, I wondered where everyone was? Where have all the people gone? Now I know that the aliens are abducting humans, but so many so fast? Really? I mean, within minutes of the event happening, the characters turn on the TV and there’s nothing on air at all. We see a newscast set just there without any people. They were all abducted that fast? I just didn’t buy this.
LS: The movie is just told from the viewpoint of a handful of people. I thought that kept things interesting. But it definitely goes back to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1969), where people were trapped in a house surrounded by monsters. Man, I can’t tell you how many movies have ripped that premise off. SKYLINE was just the latest variation on the theme.
MA: I also didn’t really like the characters in this one or the acting performances. I found Jarrod and his girlfriend to be very annoying. In fact, I’d go so far as to say each of the main characters in this film was annoying. They just weren’t likeable. I wanted to see the aliens abduct them so we could move on to some new characters.
I thought the performances were weak. I like Donald Faison a lot, and I loved him on SCRUBS, and he’s acceptable here, but his characters isn’t so swift for a guy who’s supposed to be an overachiever. He comes off like a guy who’s drinks way too much coffee, and his leadership skills don’t exactly help the group’s cause.
Eric Balfour, who I saw in RISE OF THE GARGOYLES (2009) a movie I reviewed last year, walks around this whole movie looking like he’s constipated. He was OK in the GARGOYLES movie, and he’s so-so here. His face seems to be stuck in a weird expression in this one, as if he constantly smells crap and doesn’t know where the smell is coming from.
LS: Yeah, you’re right. He did look kind of constipated. Poor guy.
MA: I wasn’t impressed with any of the actresses in this one either.
I was very disappointed with the direction by the Brothers Strause (Colin and Greg). This movie lacks anything resembling a memorable scene, which is amazing when you think of its subject matter. The closest the movie comes to such a scene is the first appearance of the huge alien ship in the sky, coming out of the clouds, but again, I thought the special effects here was no better than average.
The monsters failed to impress me throughout the movie. They looked too polished and nice, rather than horrific and deadly.
There’s little suspense. The characters are running around scared, and they’re being chased by monstrous aliens, but the chase is from one apartment to another, from a roof back down to an apartment, from a parking lot to a street and then back. I just didn’t find it that cinematic.
The screenplay by Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell was particularly weak. Things are left unexplained, and I know you thought this didn’t hurt the movie, but in a movie as weak as this, it didn’t help. The dialogue was plain and uninspiring. It’s bad when you start saying the lines before the characters do. You know the drill. Things like: “What were those things?” “I don’t know, but we gotta get out of here.” That sort of thing.
The characters Cordes and O’Donnell created were boring. Compare the folks in this film to the characters in CLOVERFIELD and you’ll notice right away a huge difference in the quality of writing. The characters in CLOVERFIELD were really fleshed out and came across as real people, and in spite of being terrified they were still humorous at times. The folks in SKYLINE aren’t fleshed out. They’re just going through the motions of being scared. I didn’t care about them at all.
LS: I agree with you that SKYLINE is not in CLOVERFIELD’s league, but I think you’re exaggerating some of your points. I let the movie suck me in and I wanted to find out what happened next. If you don’t think about it too, much, it’s a fun time.
MA: Well, I like to think when I’m watching a movie.
The ending to SKYLINE was absolutely silly. It was as if the writers decided to end the film this way to make up for the fact the ending might be too hopeless.
LS: I actually would have preferred a much bleaker ending. But it seemed like they decided to finally give us an explanation of what the aliens were doing with all those people they abducted. For what it is, I liked the ending. It worked for me.
MA: I liked the explanation of what the aliens were doing. I thought that part was actually cool. I’m talking about what happened to Jarrod’s character. I didn’t get that part at all. What was that all about? That’s the part I found silly. He should have ended up like the rest of humankind.
Anyway, SKYLINE is a muddled mess, with little about it to recommend.
So, like MONSTERS before it, I give it 1 ½ knives.
LS: Oh well, we can’t agree on all of them. That’s two in a row that you were clueless about. I think you should avoid movies about alien monsters on earth.
MA: I think I should avoid BAD movies about alien monsters on earth. But unfortunately, we have to review them.
LS: Hey, can you take a look outside the window and see what’s going on?
MA: Yeah, sure— wait a minute. You’re not going to trick me that easily! You look out the window! In fact, I’m going back to bed. Don’t forget to clean up after yourself before you leave.
LS: Awww, rats. I thought I’d be able to trick you.
(MA leaves the room, closes the door behind him.)
LS: Next time, buy some damn pickles!
(From behind the closed bedroom door shines a bright white light.)
LS: I wish I could say I planned this, but I didn’t. (calls through door) Hey, don’t look at the light!
(Door opens and MA staggers out of room, disheveled and frightened.)
LS: Are the aliens outside your window?
MA: No, it’s that POLGERGEIST lady again. She’s in my bed.
LS (grimaces): Oooh! Now that’s a scary image.
MA: You’re telling me! I need to go for a walk. Let’s go buy some pickles.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gave SKYLINE – one and a half knives!
L.L. Soares gave SKYLINE - two and a half knives!