‘Skyline’ DVD review: all effects and not much else

Reviewed by: Harrison Cheung —

A tale of two movies. Last week, sci-fi thriller BATTLE: LOS ANGELES ended up as a surprise number one movie at the box office. This week, the similarly themed SKYLINE is out on video.

Sci-fi movies like SKYLINE tend to spend 99 percent of their budget on special effects. Casting and script development? Forget it. SKYLINE is only worth watching just to compare how much better BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is on so many levels.

SKYLINE is a sophomore effort by The Brothers Strause – Colin and Greg Strause are two special effects guys who previously directed the dreadful ALIENS VS PREDATOR – REQUIEM. SKYLINE stars Eric Balfour as Jarrod, an artist who visits LA along with his pregnant girlfriend, Elaine (Scottie Thompson). Donald Faison (SCRUBS) is his best friend, an LA rapper with a penthouse in Marina del Rey.

On the night of the couple’s arrival, strange lights fill the sky and suddenly alien vacuum cleaners come down through the clouds and start sucking up humans into the sky. Anyone looking into their lights gets hypnotized into a suicidal leap.

Jarrod’s lengthy backstory – the movie actual restarts 15 hours before the alien attack – is wasted time, doing nothing to advance or enhance the story. Unlike BATTLE:LA that hurries with the urgency of a news report, SKYLINE’s pretentious script-by-numbers tries to make the audience connect with the young not-from-LA couple who are dazzled by a penthouse view, Italian sports cars and an Infinity pool.

For all the glory of the horizon-wide special effects, SKYLINE restricts its action to the Marina del Rey apartment building as our cast bravely runs up and down the stairs to avoid smaller vacuum cleaners from sucking out their brains.

Again, comparisons to BATTLE: LOS ANGELES are unavoidable. You’re going to have an ACTION movie when you’re following a squad of armed Marines lead by Aaron Eckhart. But SKYLINE’s whiny civilians debate whether to stay or go, hide or run, with the kind of unconvincing dialogue saved for FRIDAY THE 13th horror movie clones.

With alien hoovers scanning the windows, do you think you should open the blinds?

The other problem the Strause Brothers have made with SKYLINE is one of scale. The giant alien ships are breathtaking to look at. The vacuum cleaner action has the side benefit of clearing Lincoln Blvd traffic. But when nuclear explosions start going off downtown LA, I’m not sure how Marina del Rey is spared.

The cast is capable enough, though they are dealing with the most meagre of scripts. Eric Balfour desperately needs a better projoect to stop his slide into obscurity. The ending of the movie will leave you howing with anger at the blatant sequel set-up.

The lesson here is to learn from the past. STAR TREK, TWILIGHT ZONE, DOCTOR WHO and many other classic sci-fi shows were all about great stories set in fantastic premises. It’s not about the special effects. And when shows like DISTRICT 9, CLOVERFIELD and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA tell great stories with run-of-the-mill CGI effects, you can see a production that’s more about FX accommodating a story – not the other way around.

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