I went to see the movie Skyline yesterday.
I should have known better. The distributor has been advertising it like crazy, but as the release date approached, they didn’t preview it for movie critics. That usually means they’re trying to hide how much their movie sucks. And with a Metacritic score of 28 and 10% on the Tomatometer, the signs were not promising. Still, there was something about it…I wanted to see for myself. That turned out to be a mistake.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
If you’ve seen any of the trailers for Skyline, then you know that some people are sleeping in a nice apartment in a highrise tower, and they wake up to bright lights shining in the window. It turns out that aliens have arrived in massive spaceships. Some of the aliens fly, some of them stomp around, and some of the crawl around in a mass of writhing tentacles. They’re taking people up into the sky amid glowing blue light. And now you know everything.
Oh, if you see the movie, you’ll learn a little more about the characters and their relationships–not that you’ll care, because they’re shallow and stupid–and you’ll see a lot more special effects–not that you’ll care because they’re the same as the effects in the trailers. The trailers also give away all the key plot points and most of the surprises. To be blunt: Beyond what’s revealed in the trailers, there are no significant plot developments.
Skyline also continues the major recent trend in science fiction disaster movies–from Spielberg’s War Of the Worlds remake to Cloverfield to The Mist to 2012–of following people who aren’t involved in the big fight. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it pays to tell a small story of survival set against a big backdrop.
It usually works better, however, when the backdrop is well-known reality, because then the audience doesn’t feel cheated if you don’t solve the big plot problem. In James Cameron’s Titanic, nobody expects Jack and Rose to stop the ship from sinking. But when the problem is an alien invasion, you kind of want to see how we beat them. So this bunch of people trapped in a high-rise apartment building…they’re just a subplot.
Skyline exacerbates the problem with an extra twist that makes you care even less: Stupidity. The main characters are ineffective at almost everything they do. They make a couple of half-assed attempts to escape, but they get nowhere. They argue about what to do, but they never settle on a plan. And it never occurs to them to save up water in case the city pumps fail, or to raid the other apartments in the building for weapons or medical gear, or to look for other survivors,
When the U.S. Air Force shows up, they’re not much better. For one thing, they’re flying F117 stealth fighters in daylight, which kind of defeats the purpose of a radar-invisible plane that’s painted black. Then again, these planes are just digital special effects, dodging and weaving past the enemy flying machines like small insects rather than multi-ton aircraft, so none of it matters.
(At one point, a stealth fighter launches a nuclear-tipped missile at one of the big alien motherships, it launches from far too close, and is presumably destroyed in the blast. Here’s a hint for filmmakers: The real U.S. Air Force knows how to attack an enemy with nuclear weapons from far enough away to avoid killing themselves in the process. They think of stuff like that.)
The aliens aren’t a whole lot smarter. Their plan to round-up all the humans seems to be to wander the city at random, peeking in windows. I guess with their advanced technology they don’t need an efficient battle plan–it’s kind of a walkover–but wouldn’t they want to save some time? And I’ve got to wonder how they managed to develop all that technology since, like a human infant, they seem to lack a sense of object permanence: Once the humans run into a building and hide for a few minutes, the aliens forget they’re there.
The whole movie is like that. The special effects look great, and the rest of the cinematography is passable, but when it’s over, all you’ve really seen is a bunch of stupid people dying.