x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Skyline

Skyline has a loose plot and feels like a showcase for special effects.

Skyline Director: Colin and Greg Strause
Starring: Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Scottie Thomson
***

The fundamental question that defines and drives the alien invasion movie Skyline is an economic one. Does the fact that it cost less than $1 million (Dh3.7m) to shoot, yet looks like a top-drawer studio blockbuster, make it somehow good in itself, irrespective of its obvious dramatic shortcomings? The answer, typically, is yes and no.

For the story that's happening outside the movie is indeed heroic - that of two brothers and special effects artists, Colin and Greg Strause, who shot a movie in and around elder brother Greg's Los Angeles apartment early last summer, for an alleged six-figure sum (somewhere in the $900,000 region), and then spent the rest of the year, and just under a further $9m transforming that footage into a dazzling special effects extravaganza called Skyline.

The results describe the glamorous life of a super-successful, ahem, LA-based special effects artist called Terry (Donald Faison). He drives a fast car, has a gorgeous blonde girlfriend and a gorgeous brunette one to boot, and has invited his old East Coast college buddy Jarrod (Eric Balfour) to the big city for the weekend, with the hope of seducing him into the world of, yes, special effects.

However, the first night's party is barely over and Jarrod has only just learned that his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thomson) is pregnant, when all of life's minor problems are blown away by the arrival of an entire race of enormous cannibalistic insectoid alien über-beings.

Here, we are presented with eye-gouging set-pieces that rank alongside the best work you'll find in any of Hollywood's juggernaut blockbusters. The descent of the alien motherships is very Independence Day, and the mass attack of the creatures is reminiscent of Starship Troopers.

While the physical pursuit of Jarrod and co by the slithery flesh-eaters themselves (they have, it transpires, a penchant for human brains), is depicted not under the handy concealment of darkness and shadowy night (as in most of the Alien movies) but in the broad burning Los Angeles sunshine - such is the confidence that the Strauses have in their technical accomplishments.

Of course, whenever Skyline stops to "do" actual drama, it mostly implodes. The debut screenwriters Liam O'Donnel and Joshua Cordes, who are both also special effects artists by day, are woefully ill-equipped to recreate actual human conversation. And "how's the robot sequence coming along, man"? doesn't quite qualify as a sprightly badinage, either. Plus, the question of Elaine's pregnancy is never anything more than a stop-gap narrative device, with few actual hints of lived experience.

And yet, even despite these flaws, there's a freedom in Skyline, a narrative randomness, that's appealing, and that can only have come from its micro-budget. Characters are forever rushing in and out of the same building, charging up on to the rooftop, battling aliens, and then charging back down again. It has an almost crackpot feel, a guerrilla filmmaking style. And at times the results can be magic. When Terry, for instance, pulls back the blinds from his apartment bay windows and his horrified guests survey the alien invasion happening below them, it might as well be a special effects maestro unveiling his latest sequence for some select guests, seated before a giant screen. Which, fundamentally, is Skyline in essence, both good and bad.

For show times, see:www.grandcinemas.com, www.cineroyal.ae, www.reelcinemas.ae, www.cinestarcinemas.com