By Admin | November 26, 2010

When alien ships the size of clouds lower from the sky, we don’t win. Thankfully, “Skyline” gets this right, as did Neill Blomkamp’s invasion-satire “District 9,” in which the hovering UFOs turn out to be something like slave ships. (On land, the aliens get similar treatment.) The latter film has humanity (well, the moral parties, anyway) fight for the aliens, while the newer entry wages all out war against the overwhelmed peons called humans. No longer can deus ex machinas like human or computer viruses save us. “Skyline,” if not always successful, refashions the modern alien invasion motif as the hopeless siege that it should be. 

To buttress the looming ships, and their ability to suck lives up like an eruption in slo-mo, the Strause brothers – effects specialists turned co-directors – dream up alien forms of various size, which results in a fuckstorm to the citizens of downtown Los Angeles. The film’s perspective is through those living the high-life in a penthouse: effects man Terry (Donald Faison), with the troublesome party of his wife and secretary/mistress. Terry recruits Jarrod (unbeknownst to him; played by the equally handsome and eerie-faced Eric Balfour) to join his team, a situation quite complicated once Jarrod learns his girl is expecting. The setup is all stale filler, the means to introduce high rollers about to become victims locked in the sky(rise): more punishing to them than helpful (but key to viewers) is a telescope rigged with a camera to a widescreen. The living hell is all too visible to its victims, who hide behind motorized shades, less they be spotted by lurking crawlers. 

Most commentary on “Skyline” has bemoaned its derivative nature. Yet, hardly any have questioned whether the film revises these conventions for a better effect – what “Skyline” aims to, though doesn’t always, achieve. Many set pieces prove more promising than delivered, like an attempted escape in parking garage and an apartment invasion, which consumes an elderly resident. (“It’s like the goddamn rapture!” he yells prior, suggesting the Strauses did, in fact, have a look at the Book of Revelation while conceiving.) 

The filmmakers realize the most devastating, yet still somewhat credible, form of monster, aliens from beyond, in the multiple forms of “Starship Trooper”-sized mammoths, squids of the air, and spindly land-crawlers — many with Medusa-like powers (causing in humans dermal darkening, paralysis, and psychological transformation before it consumes them as slaves). The sure doom would make the late film theorist Robin Wood proud – too often our fears, which briefly emerge from repression though the horror genre, are re-sublimated with a finish in which humans triumph. The crazed haunt of “Independence Day,” which tells the president that his race’s goal is for humans to die as it consumes our resources, turns out to be a cutout of our nightmares, knocked down by the magic of human technology. Our truest fears will never subsist – one of which surely is the beast from beyond, imagined by the ancient Greeks as the sea-haunting Kraken, but after the space age, existing from up above. Those of us who dream of evil know it will never die, no matter how many traditional narratives try to stifle it. This title reminds us where to look once our vision falls to darkness at night.

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  1. Pascal says:

    I actually really liked watching Skyline.
    Of course the story is basic but the effects are awesome
    and this is a good enough reason to watch this movie
    and have a pleasant evening.

  2. Matt Sorrento says:

    Glad to see many of you guys note the strengths in this film. Like many bad movies, conventional ideas can sink critical viewpoints.

  3. Dana says:

    Not sure why this film got panned so bad. The characters were tedious and unlikeable, but the effects were quite good. As good as any big action flick, really. There were even a few moments in the movie that really left me enraptured, which is something that never seems to happen for me in movies.

    I especially liked that humans lost in the end, even though the protagonists won some minor vestige of victory. Overall, I might give it a 6 out of 10.

  4. Jyiber says:

    I see there are plenty of harsh reviews for this one. On this I have to say, the acting was a disappointment at times. The dialog was unconvincing, if you will. The story was also a little ehhh… but some of it was ok-ish and definitely original.If not for B-actors and the not-well-thought-out plot this movie would have been way better.

    The effects and the ideas presented were beyond top-notch though. There are some cool hypothetical sci-fi alien invasion ideas presented that people tend to overlook when reviewing this (most critics are extremely tough on most sci-fi movies). The effects were also awesome and original and were part of what really kept me interested.

    Loved everything the movie was trying to be, and it would have been… it’s too bad it fell short of it’s full potential. It’s the kind of movie that’s looked at from the involving situation and stunning visual side where people fill in the gaps of the story with inferences about the aliens motives.

    That being said…
    6 maybe 7 out of 10

    If you are more of the kind who bases their opinions on movies on really good acting and can’t stand imperfection… this is more of a
    4 out of 10.

  5. john w says:

    If I ever make a movie I will have the black character survive and all the white characters die. By the way, I’m white. A lot of People seem to think this movie sucks. But I didn’t think it was that bad. For what it was, action-scifi, it was quite entertaining. I give it an 8 out of 10.

  6. Bruce says:

    I can understand the many objections to the apparent narrative-mash-up-cum-intertextuality. The dialog did struggle a little, and there were moments in the middle of the film when one of the actors struggled to bring off emotional authenticity. However, I think that some of the more creative and interesting aspects of the film have been both misunderstood and in some cases just plain missed, and I think this is because the film and the story are in some ways quite leading edge. Although it can be said to fit the Independence Day motif, and pays homage to H.G. Wells as does every other alien invasion movie, Skyline is very much a special and narrow genre film. It is in fact a contemporary informationist SF flick. This may be why much of it has been misinterpretted and, I think, underappreciated.

    The themes that are most well developed in the film are those that play with ontology, psychology and identity and especially with regard to the ontology of information and information processing and how it affects these. This is why there is a lot of brain transplanting and biological-systems hijacking. Modern information systems – especially those employed in warfare – are designed to be hot-pluggable and interoperable at the level of hardware and software. Technologies for computation going into the 21st century are set to blur the lines between software and hardware. Modern quantum computing technology relies on using superposition states of quantum (very small) systems – an extension into multiple states of the binary or two state approach currently employed – to produce ultra high speed computation based upon quantum indeterminacy. IBMs Blue brain project aims to simulate the processes of wetware (the brain): wherein information itself is very close to neurochemistry. The point is that information is strange and strangely causal -and we are learning that it can do strange things. The film explores the hypothetical situation of a race that has adapted so far in terms of its ability to manipulate information and alter the information underlying physical systems that it has become like one massive informationally articulated system that can overcome physical boundaries can acquire and acquire information and information processing systems.

    One of the core concepts of the film is the idea of biological information and the neural correlates of consciousness (in other words – neurology) being affected and re-wired/re-written causally by information transmitted apparently as an electromagnetic signal. This is the central motif (called a novum by SF theorist Darko Suvin) whereby the light emmitted from the invaders probes alters the characters’ physical makeup (presumably the idea is that it alters their neurology and genetics).

    There is a rich meta-fictional metaphor here for the receipt of information from SF texts. Fictive/pseudo-information combined with real information goes through the eyes to the brain and is assimilated in a way that is ideally supposed to be tranformative of ideas and the consciousness. All true SF fan-nerds embrace this spirit of engaging the grey matter at a new level in terms of ideation – even in the context of space operas. I think there were some very new ideas in this story for those who knew what to look for. In some ways, this flick was a little too ahead of its time for many to appreciate it’s better elements.

    I really enjoyed this film, and one of my favourite parts was the cliched desperate heroic last ditch attempt by human pilots to deliver a best-human weapon: a Nuke from a B2 stealth bomber. I know it was all CGI, but what a great action sequence tuned just right. The pilot’s information processing systems were just good enough, and chance got a look in.

    In the end, the information processing capabilities of the invader were just too vastly advanced. They were like a voracious all consuming informational disease. However, in a nice twist – human nature was the virus that infected them. The lead character’s emotional identity preserved his psychological identity making him like the virus of The War of The Worlds. Not so depressing perhaps – just very challenging in terms of our comfort with human physical and psychological identity. That was different, and in SF, different is good.

    I’ll give it 6 for the informationist stuff and 2 for the wow factor. I’m tempted to take 1 off for allowing us all to miss the point, but what genuine SF fan really wants dumbed-down SF (would that make it Sci-Fi)? I’ll take the 1 off for actors who didn’t quite get it and some fart-like dialogue.

    I’ll watch this again with my kids. My 11 year old son will just intuitively get the informationist themes and novum.

  7. Chronodate says:

    Having seen innumerable 50’s B-movie sci-fi flicks I can honestly say Skyline ranks up there with the best.

    Brain stealing monsters menacing a small group of humanity trapped in a confined space? With no-name actors on a small budget? Bingo!

    It Conquered the World, It Came From Outer Space, Killers from Space, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers … need I go on? This has *always* been a specialized genre appealing to a limited audience, and it remains so. I wouldn’t expect a “general audience” to embrace Skyline any more than I would expect a “general audience” to embrace The Brain From Planet Arous (a fantastic film), and this seems to be what’s happened. You can keep your high-budget “homages” like Independence Day or Men in Black, Skyline is the real deal (with a touch of Japanese kaiju thrown in).

  8. jb says:

    I just watched this last night. It was very slow, the dialog was bad, the characters were boring, the the alien’s motivation was questionable, and the end was downright depressing.

    Having said that, I did find the fact that we lose to be somewhat refreshing. I found the idea that the aliens are phenomenally sturdy and self-repairing (rather than invincible) to be refreshing as well. I got quite engrossed in the film at a couple of points.

    But why do they need human brains to run themselves? What benefit could human brains have to such a highly advanced system? And why, with one exception, do the human brains immediately turn “alien” as soon as they are implanted?

    The mixture of positives and negatives left me frustrated. I’d end up giving it a 4 out of 10.

  9. Tony says:

    Wow! I can’t believe there are so many negative comments about this movie. I liked Skyline. Anyone one who says this is a rehash of other movies doesn’t know crap about Science Fiction. Just because there’s a tentacled alien machine in a movie doesn’t mean its a copy of The Matrix. An alien invasion movie can have different perspectives. There are an infinite number of stories that can be told and this movie settles on the millionaire rapper and his friends. It wouldn’t be my first choice but it’s still interesting to see. The movie gave glimpses of other stories that might have been more intense such as the machine gun armed group in the truck making a run for it, or the Stealth pilot who evaded enemy ships to get close enough to launch his/her nuke on the command ship. The light and sound weapons of the aliens is refreshing change from the usual lasers. I don’t understand why so many complain about the effects, I thought they were well done. The story may have been superficial but we were seeing it from the perspective of the millionaire rapper and friends which in reality is superficial anyway. Regardless of what others think of this movie, I’ll keep this one in my collection.

  10. Marc in SF says:

    Ugghhh, Skyline was just stink bombs galore. What kind of drab movie traps you in a penthouse with a bunch of pansies that don’t know how to freak the f**k out and run for ya damn lives. The first hour and a half was pure cinema lead molasses and had me dragging my face across my palms wondering why oh why did someone make this horrible movie that made me waste my hard earned money on this and the popcorn and coke that is making me fat… I know why!!! Frickin Hollywood is why, and they are going to do it again aren’t they with Battle LA!!! G-Damnit ma why can’t these film making mofos just make one movie, why make one movie when you can make three, or in this case three movies out of the same script. So in Battle LA is this the part of the story where the military gets some where they obviously got wasted in Skyline. Geez Maneezz, just make one B rate movie, don’t make 2 or 3 stinkers. I know we are in a recession, but common, quite squeezing my wallet Hollywood…

    If you don’t believe me check out who’s doing the G-Damn effects on Battle LA. I’m boycotting any film that tries to tie in with the utter bomb of a movie called Skyline… FTW!!!

    Come on like Sony would let a smaller studio like Rouge move in on it’s gig, as if pretending to stir up some contraversy about a law suit is gonna throw us, please… Greg Strause is in on it from the get go and it just shows that movie studios have nothing better to do than copy each others story lines and make similar movies. Gets some balls hollywood and stop filling the toilet with half a*s sci fi. Bring back the good ole feeling of Star Wars, Road Warrior, or Terminator and dream up of some original material, cause if you can’t do it I will, in my dreams all for me. Bye bye Hollywood, nighty night for me.

  11. Matt Sorrento says:

    Thanks for the comments, folks. I didn’t claim the premise to be new overall, though it’s refreshing in the scope of recent high-concept, alien invasion films. It’s tricky to play the highbrow card — wanting better dialog, etc. — when dealing with popcorn like this. Sure, the dialog could have been better — but to what level are we talking about? This film is about what we see, not the words that fill out the script. (Though I’m glad that there were relatively few lines in the film.) And why compare this to “Moon”? That’s a subjective, speculative take on isolation and cloning — it has hardly anything to do with a massive siege film like this.

  12. racial coward says:


    The film would have had some value if the illegal space aliens nuked the city in the last few minutes. I would have liked it if that new $1Billion high school was ground zero. I did like those scenes where the Mexicans and illegal aliens are getting sucked up into the space ships. I hope the sequel is in San Diego near the zoo. I think the producer was trying for the GP rating because he left out a lot of sex scenes and frontal nudity.

  13. racial coward says:


    I have never seen a worst film in my life. I think all the names in the credits are fake, who would want to be associated with this waste of good 35 mm film and the cost of processing. How could anyone even think of making such a film?

  14. Steven says:

    Yeah, I didn’t like it one bit. The concept may have been cool (not really new), but how they brought it to screen, my God. Nice effects, but nothing more. I remember four (!) times the characters were stuck in front of locked doors (one gate) while an alien was approaching. It’s old, but in a bad movie, you can get away with it. Once. But FOUR times? It was almost as laughable as the dialogue. The “We don’t have enough bedsheets”-observation was pure comedy gold, unfortunately not meant as such. The slow-mo “Nooooo!”, well, it fits the locked-door-suspense.
    This was the most boring alien invasion movie I’ve ever seen. It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, no, I’ve seen “Birdemic”. But for a movie on this level (11 million), you could expect a little, just a little, effort in character and dialogue. AFAIK, they spent 500k in filming, 10 million in special effects, and produced it in one year. I assume the time was spent in similar proportions, 1 week writing the script, 3 weeks filming it, the other 11 months putting the special effects in.
    And why is it said in this review that “we don’t win”? Just because you saw smoke above L.A. and NY? In “ID4”, they’ve been totally annihilated and we won. And if you’ve seen the end, this is far from over. The end, so obviously created to set up a sequel in which – according to the writers – some awesome monster-monster battles are planned, and … well, let’s not talk about a sequel, maybe they forget about it.
    If you do not live on effects and want some interesting characters or dialogue above elementary school level to go with your alien invasion, this is not to be recommended.
    Speaking of elemtary school, maybe that’s the reason? It’s PG-13, probably that’s the relevant target group, the 13-15 year old demographic. Oh well.

  15. pplr says:

    I saw it and Starship Troopers 3 (a better movie that was direct to video).

    The idea that humans don’t always win is hardly new and can easily be found in old episodes of The Outer Limits, B movies, and Scifi novels.

    That they are treating this old idea like a new thing shows just how much the film lacks.

    I like Scifi. Moon utterly destroys this movie with half of this film’s budget.

    But that isn’t fair. Moon was meant to be done as a thriller/drama with some brainpower.

    To be fair the usual Scifi action flicks (Transformers 2 as an example) survive on special effects and don’t have much to be valued dialogue-wise. but can be fun to watch.

    Skyline wasn’t even that fun.

    It is not the worst movie of the year (that would be going too far), but it could have been better and wasn’t.

  16. I just took it as the prequel to some sort of sci-fi Spartacus.

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