'Skyline': Los Angeles Sucking In a Whole New Way

Nobody expects these people to be Tolstoyan in their complexity, but on the other hand it would be pleasant if some of them had more personality than, say, a character in a video game.


Director: Colin Strause, Greg Strause
Cast: Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crtystal Reed, David Zayas, Donald Faison
Distributor: Relativity Media
Studio: Universal
Release Date: 2011-03-22

Okay, you know going in that this ain't War and Peace. Any time a movie hinges on the idea of huge looming spaceships sucking up generous portions of the population, vacuum-cleaner style, into their airborne, steely maws, you have to figure: character development is taking a back seat, here. The question is, can the movie still be a brainlessly fun time like, say, Cloverfield? Or at least a special effects extravaganza, a la Avatar? Or will it just be a disheveled mess, incoherent and noisy, like (insert movie title you hate here)?

You can forgive a lot in a movie like Skyline. The characters might be weak, the story ludicrous, the plot hackneyed, the logical holes big enough to fly a spaceship through. Hey—not every aliens-come-to-Earth movie can be The Thing From Another World (the 1951 original, I mean). Or even District 9. However crummy a movie might be, there are few sins that can't be overlooked as long as the specials effects manage to be appropriately epic, the pace doesn't drag too much, and there are a few "oh wow" moments scattered throughout.

These, then, are my admittedly modest criteria for assessing this movie.

The plot can be easily summarized. Alien spaceships appear over Los Angeles one day and start hoovering up hordes of people from the ground, presumably for no good purpose. A small group of buddies who have gotten together for a birthday party in a highrise witness these events from the penthouse suite, and spend the bulk of the movie trying to get out of the building. It's not exactly a spoiler to say that not all of them manage to do so.

The camera work lends a claustrophobic feel to the proceedings, as the audience knows only a little more about what's happening than the characters do—courtesy of the occasional high-angle, panoramic shot—and the characters know almost nothing. For the most part, the audience shares the limitations of the humans onscreen. This is effective.

So is the visual spectacle, which is impressive by any measure. The spaceships are appropriately unearthly, the aliens creepily tentacular or thunderously juggernautlike, the US military response fast-paced and visceral. There is plenty of action, including a few jump-in-your-seat moments, but the action avoids the quick-cutting that mars too many movies these days. Lots of stuff explodes, but you generally understand why.

Considerably less effective are the characters, who really are little more than ciphers. As mentioned above, nobody expects these people to be Tolstoyan in their complexity, but on the other hand it would be pleasant if some of them had more personality than, say, a character in a video game. They do not. They go through their paces, running around and crying out—sometimes in slow motion!—and we as the audience watch. But do we as the audience care? No, we don't. Whoops—there goes another one. Pass the popcorn.

The pace is steady once the aliens show up, which happens soon enough. At a brisk ninety-odd minutes, there's not a lot of slack time in this film. This leaves the "oh wow" moments, which do take place, but which unfortunately collapse in the service of a jaw-droppingly stupid final few minutes.

The DVD contains a few extras that might be of interest to the fans, presuming that this movie has fans, which is not a foregone conclusion. The deleted and extended scenes manage to consume whole minutes of your life without adding anything of value to the movie, while two commentaries, one by directors Greg and Colin Strause and the other by co-screenwriters Liam O'Donnell and Joshua Cordes, tell you how great everybody's performances were. There's plenty of chatter about the effects, too, along with insightful comments like: "It was crazy how little time we had to pull this thing off."

Really, though, are you watching this DVD because you want to hear the director say, "We tried to make everyone's motivations, you know, grounded from their own experience"? No, you are not. You are watching this because you want to see Los Angelenos get sucked airborne into the pitiless bellies of machines from the other side of the universe. You want to see your fellow humans running in terror—sometimes in slow motion!—from monsters they neither comprehend nor control. You wish to see them struggle to overcome impossible odds, and you want to watch many of them fail to do so.

Well then, you're in luck, because that is exactly what you get here.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.