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Review: ‘Skyline’

Aliens 1, Humans 0

Above: Eric Balfour and tentacled alien in "Skyline."

Universal Pictures did not screen "Skyline" (opening November 12 throughout San Diego) for critics. So I not only paid for my ticket but also for my son and his friend. So was it worth $35?

Let me say upfront and with absolute clarity that "Skyline" is a bad film. So why don't I feel any animosity toward it? Why don't I resent spending $35 and losing 2 hours of my life? I guess because despite everything that was wrong with this film I still had fun and laughed more than I did at "Due Date." Plus I have to confess to having an affection for aliens especially tentacled ones.

Alien ships -- that look a lot like the one in "District 9" -- hover over Los Angeles in "Skyline."

Universal Pictures

Above: Alien ships -- that look a lot like the one in "District 9" -- hover over Los Angeles in "Skyline."

The wafer thin plot for "Skyline" is simply that aliens invade LA. The film is derivative of everything from "Transformers" to "District 9" to the upcoming "Battle: Los Angeles." In fact, Sony Pictures, the studio behind next year's "Battle: Los Angeles" had been threatening legal action against "Skyline." The lawsuit had a bit of a David and Goliath feel since Sony has a behemoth $100 million pic and "Skyline" is a little $10 million indie. But Sony felt like "Skyline" was not only ripping off "Battle's" storyline but also stealing its thunder by coming out months in advance of the studio tentpole. And to add to the whole incestuous Hollywood scandal, the filmmakers of "Skyline" – brothers Colin and Greg Strause -- own and run the visual effects company Hydraulx, which just happens to be designing the effects work for "Battle: Los Angeles." But all this off screen melodrama just adds to the trashy fun of the film.

The film is a ridiculous sci-fi actioner in which one character tries to use a handgun to stop an alien the size of a small house and characters duck and cover to protect themselves from the radiation fallout of a nuclear bomb. Yet there's a certain Saturday morning serial charm to the action at times like when Eric Balfour decides to engage an alien beast in hand-to-hand combat (with a meager ax as a weapon) and to actually triumph over it by ripping out its brain with his bare hands! I mean that alone is probably why I wasn't pissed about spending the $35 to get in.

The Strause Brothers on the set of "Skyline."

Universal Pictures

Above: The Strause Brothers on the set of "Skyline."

I also have to say that while the script, acting, and direction essentially sucked, the aliens were mighty cool. The film was crassly shot and often the effects looked cheap but the alien design was darn nifty and fun. Plus these aliens really know how to kick some ass and take no prisoners. The Strause Brothers also had some fun effects moments, most notably when a human that had been "consumed" by an alien is pulled back out and resurrected only to have his brain ripped from his head. Apparently like zombies, these creatures crave human brains. Plus the aliens have the whole tentacle thing going for them and that's always a sexy sci-fi addition to any extraterrestrial.

The Strause Brothers actually hurt themselves by alluding to films like "District 9," which are so far superior that it makes their film look even worse. "District 9" was also low budget but it was smart, it had something to say, it had a compelling story. "Skyline" has none of that. But I do like the fact that an upstart, low budget film can be such a thorn in the side of a major studio. There's something appealing about that.

The invasion in "Skyline."

Universal Pictures

Above: The invasion in "Skyline."

"Skyline" (rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some language, and brief sexual content) is an atrociously bad movie with laughable performances and the lamest of scripts. I do not want to suggest to anyone that they should spend their hard earned money on this kind of film because it only encourages studios to make more like it. Yet as a die-hard fan of horror and monster movies I am glad I saw it and I hope that a better filmmaker with a big budget will hire out the Strause boys to do what they seem to do best and that's designing creatures and special effects. But please keep these boys from penning another script.I will just chalk this one up to tentacle love.

Companion viewing: "Monsters," "District 9," "The Thing From Another World," "Starship Troopers"

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Avatar for user 'ERICAANDTONY'

ERICAANDTONY | November 13, 2010 at 10:53 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

pure garbage!!! i can't believe rouge pictures actually spent time and money on this film... was it a tax write off??? or simple boardum?? i do not recommend this film to anyone. i really think there should be a fine from the government for awful movies.. a bunch of syfi aliens taking human brains...rouge pictures should be storyline no plot no meaning...just a bunch of people stuck in a pent house apartment and occasionaly running out part of the movie....when it was over

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | November 14, 2010 at 12:02 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Government fine for bad movies? Nice idea.

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Avatar for user 'cyrus1114'

cyrus1114 | November 14, 2010 at 6:35 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Now that is not fair ERICAANDTONY, the part with the UAV's and F-22 Raptors attacking was kind of interesting and some of the scenes I like the reviewer of this movie found hilarious and because of that entertaining but yeah over all the movie was garbage. As someone that I know said when it comes to Sci-Fi this movie makes the Phantom Menace look like a master piece.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 15, 2010 at 7:40 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

I have to confess to having an affection for aliens especially tentacled ones."

Sounds kinky to me. LOL (JK)

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 15, 2010 at 7:49 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

I haven't seen SKYLINE although the trailer alone qualifies it to be better than the head-splitting CLOVERFIELD. But since you compare it to DISTRICT 9, I must say I was not all that impressed with that film. The Academy has made many a poor decision in its history and one of them was returning to the practice of TEN best pix nominess, of which DISTRICT 9 was one. Yes, DISTRICT 9 had something to say about recent South African history. However, having recently rewatched the similar-themed ALIEN NATION and reading a couple of reviews of that time, I would say it was LESS heavy-handed for 1988 than DISCTRICT 9 was for 2009.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | November 15, 2010 at 10:17 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Well yes tentacles are a bit kinky but I was talking about them more in terms of a sci-fi movie fetish as opposed to anything in real life. ;)

I'm glad you are not a fan of Cloverfield but I still feel that District 9 was well made especially for the budget it had. The effects were well integrated into the story and the characters had real humanity. Plus it had a sense of ironic humor.

And cyrus -- scary thought about this making Phantom Menace look like a masterpiece. (I just shuddered.)

Thanks to all for the comments.

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Avatar for user 'guitarmahn'

guitarmahn | December 7, 2010 at noon ― 6 years, 2 months ago

Its to bad in this generation of nit-twitters they cant appreciate a B movie flick with some fun moments and a cool ending. Theyd rather quibble about the effects since someone spilled it that their budget was low so everyone suddenly is a expert. Of course if Oprah said it was amazing theyd jump on that train. Its fun its decent and in a land of spew and crap pelting us on televison radio and movies that counts. Sorry critics your wrong, go text someone and catch the latest 'Saw' yawn o rama.

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Avatar for user 'flyandi'

flyandi | April 25, 2011 at 12:17 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Pretty interesting movie. It's definitely not your every day movie with a fully scripted story. But still somehow realistic.

I see it this way: A group of Los Angeles party people - mid 20s, no children, medium to high income - wake up in the morning to realize that we are not "alone". What happens next could really be the reality: From pulling out the .45 and go on the roof to asses the situation - to make the decision that the only way out of this is by boat... but than again: Los Angeles Party People.

What me bothers are the many illogical parts in the movie. I assume that our technologies are advanced enough to discover a fleet of spaceships of this size long before they arrive here plus how do they know that our brains can be used as their "batteries"? Even worse it appears that their whole technology was built for harvesting "human" brains. I have to assume that humans have a far greater exposure in the Galaxy than just our planet or maybe not? Maybe a second part will this explain this further.

I like the idea that each alien unit (from humanoid to spaceship) is an independent life form. In fact it seems that they are more animals than intelligent life forms. Probably they are some failed experiment of another race. Again maybe part 2 will shed some lights on it.

While the "story" shows kind of real behavior of helpless human beings, many parts of the movie from nuking a harvester ship to flying a helicopter across alien drones are not, which basically brings the whole movie down.

My take is that many people are unprepared for any kind of event: Earthquakes, Financial Breakdown or even an Alien Attack - and that probably most will give up and or render them helpless.

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