Skyline (2010)

(In theaters, November 2010) First of what seems to be a long list of alien-invasion films to appear in 2010-2011, Skyline takes a low-budget high-concept approach to a well-worn story: Aliens attack Los Angeles, and a few human characters are stuck in a high-rise apartment watching the action.  Perhaps the most astonishing film about Skyline is its reported cost of about ten million dollars, only half a million of which was spent on principal photography.  The rest is all CGI, and the on-screen result veers between digital home-movie quality and feature-film CGI effects.  It’s an audacious bet, but the film does feel a lot bigger than its budget.  Unfortunately, intentions aren’t the only thing that matters, and so Skyline missteps badly in about three major ways, two of whom are related to its ending.  (Spoiler ahead!)  The first issue is the lack of interest in the characters, none of whom have enough personality to be sympathetic.  Their self-indulgent dialogue is annoying, and there’s not a lot of sympathy to be felt for overgrown teenagers living large in a luxurious condo.  Skyline laboriously sets up its first act and then slowly moves through its second one; only the last thirty minutes truly move.  But the film’s most interesting characteristic is also the one that kills it: Anyone criticizing why alien-invasion movies always end up with the humans winning may want to take a look at Skyline to understand why it’s a better story to cheer for the human underdogs rather than letting the aliens do whatever they want anyway: it’s the difference between a short film and feature-length one: Don’t turn around in circles for 90 minutes to say something patently obvious from the moment the film’s premise is explained.  Skyline’s final problem stems from the second one in that it stops at an awful moment, either five minutes too late or fifteen minutes too early, ending with a futile nihilism that will make viewers turn against the film in its entirety.  (I’m not even going to comment on the patently absurd rationale of why the aliens seem to invade.)  Oh, there are plenty of things to like in the film’s individual moments: The special effects are often as good as any other alien-invasion film put on-screen.  (It helps that the Strauss Brothers writers/directors have an extensive background in visual effects.)  In the end, however, we’re left with a poisoned alien-invasion candy, not worth revisiting again knowing how it ends.  Skyline makes marginally more sense as a horror film rather than a science-fiction one, but not that much… and not enough to care.

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