E.T. – Go Home! Home?: ‘Skyline’ vs. ‘Battle: Los Angeles’

Unless you are a Tinseltown insider (nope) or someone who writes about film for a “living” (yep), you probably haven’t heard about the Skyline/Battle: Los Angeles lawsuit. Unlike cases of preposterous plagiarism that plague much of Hollywood today (‘I can up with the idea for…umm…what’s this week’s box office winner???’) , Sony felt it had a legitimate legal beef with FX house Hydraulx since it had hired them to work on their $100 million alien invasion film. When the Brothers Strause announced they were coming out with their own space case – Skyline – the suits saw red – and why not. The guys run Hydraulx and were privy to much of the Battle: LA‘s preproduction in the process. Making their own spotty cosmic invader effort seemed specious at best.

Luckily, the first film out of the gate landed with a mighty movie thud. As the producers of Skyline griped that critics didn’t “appreciate” the vision involved, Sony just kept on hard selling their own outsized epic. It’s no surprise then that as Battle: Los Angeles prepares to hit theaters on 11 March, Universal and Rogue are releasing their tired little turd on DVD and Blu-ray (22 March). Even outside the courtroom, both continue to clash, each hoping to get the commercial upper hand. Here at SE&L we’ve seen both efforts, and without being too spoiler specific, here is a little compare and contrast. When all is said and done, it’s clear who wins the most important war of all – the war for and on entertainment.

The Premise:

Skyline – aliens attack LA – or just random parts of it.

Battle: LA – aliens obliterate LA as part of a world conquest.

Advantage – Battle: LA

When the space jockeys attack in Battle: Los Angeles, they mean friggin’ business. They take out the beach, establish a front, and then bombard the hell out of the downtown suburbs. Before long, the entire city is under siege. In Skyline, we get a few floating mother ships, and no real indication that the panic is more spread out or evern worldwide (though that is more or less implied by the laughably lame ending).

The Motive:

Skyline – the aliens want human brains as fuel???

Battle: LA – the alien’s entire technology/biology is based on liquid water – and Earth is 75% what?

Advantage – Battle: LA

We never fully understand why the galaxy goons of Skyline want human beings for their skull contents. They snatch and suck on brains, but to what end…and better yet, how did they get to Earth without a stockpile of gray matter in their onboard inventory? At least the need for H2O makes a little more sense, especially when the alien species is finally explained.

The Setting:

Skyline – a ritzy high rise apartment building…PERIOD!

Battle: LA– the entire city, including side streets, freeways, and the sewers.

Advantage – Battle: LA

Because of budget and vision, Battle: Los Angeles wins the setting argument cold. Skyline can’t leave the confines of its fancy flats, finding more and more ridiculous reasons for the cast to come running back to the building. At least the entire city is invested in Battle, even if we don’t get the kind of landmark bashing that made 2012‘s ungodly earthquake so entertaining.

The Weapons:

Skyline – an artsy blue light. Some oversized giant monsters. Floating explosive squiddies!

Battle: LA– bugs with guns. Lumbering smart shooters. Air drones. Central controlling mothership station.

Advantage – Battle: LA

Whenever Skyline wants to suggest a threat, it pulls out the topaz beacon from beyond the stars and turns people into modeled-skinned stooges. As a second line of offense, they drag out the Godzilla wannabes and Matrix clones. All the Battle: LA beasties do is shoot shit up. Nothing overly fancy or filled with faux tech threat.

The Characters:

Skyline – a hip hop impresario, his best buddy from back in the NY ‘hood, a whining fiancé, an equally whining girlfriend, a slightly less whining mistress/assistant, and a beefy Hispanic concierge are the random collection of victim fodder.

Battle: LA– various officers and grunts from a highly trained Marine unit, with the addition of some glassy-eyed civilians along the way.

Advantage – DRAW!

Neither movie is going to win awards with its lamentable lack of three dimensional characterization. For every good bit of backstory given to someone in Battle: LA, we have to suffer through a stampede of stereotypes. The same really applies to Skyline, though the use of formulaic survival placeholders is slightly more offensive. Extra cinematic demerits for featuring the incessant whining of women (Skyline) and children (Battle).

The Script:

Skyline – an incomprehensible mess that meanders recklessly from a ersatz rap video vibe (the big par-tee in the penthouse opening) to Cloverfield clunkiness (homunculus ETs on the prowl), to a finale that has to be seen to be believed.

Battle: LA– a straight ahead action thriller where a group of people must make their way from Point A to Point B will under time and attack constraints. A couple of shallow subplots tossed in for less than good measure.

Advantage – Battle: LA

Lord knows what the scribes behind Skyline were thinking. It’s like they did tequila shots off a copy of Invaders from Mars and then drunkenly dreamed up even dumber ways for their characters to take on the oncoming outer space threat. Then they throw in a big sack of unnecessary schlock for further futility. At least Battle: LA sets up goals (get the survivors, get to the evac station) and then lets the players try to accomplish said aims.

The Direction:

Skyline– The Brothers Strause, who can’t seem to successfully collaborate on a clue, let alone a dramatic way of handling a story with inherit epicness and scope.

Battle: LA– Jonathan Liebesman, who gets how to handle action and proper spectacle situations, even if the reliance on the first person POV shaky-cam can be a bit off-putting at times. Advantage – Battle: LA

One knows how to set up a scene and deliver. The others pick at their toe cheese and clumsily experiment on camera without a single clue. Guess which one is which?

The Overall Experience:

Skyline – a certified headscratcher, the kind of unfocused mess that makes one sheepish to step into the cinema for months at a time.

Battle: LA– a nice b-actioner that gets it points across with little muss or fuss – and limited fun, unfortunately.

Advantage – Battle: LA

While neither film fulfills its alien invasion promise, Battle: LA does the better job overall. Sony should be able to win its lawsuit on aesthetics alone.