New on DVD/Blu-ray: Skyline (2010)

“Skyline”, from the brothers Strause, has the distinction of being the first Hollywood-backed studio alien invasion movie in what is quickly becoming a tidal wave of similar genre efforts to touch down in theaters. Ironically, it’ll probably also end up costing the least of all the alien invasion movies, mostly thanks to the fact that it’s directed by two brothers who cut their teeth on special effects. The film now swoops down on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment on March 22, 2011.

It was supposed to be a simple birthday weekend in Southern California. But when sunrise arrives two hours early in the form of a haunting light from an unknown source, a group of friends watch in terror as people across the city are drawn outside and swept into massive alien ships that have blotted out the Los Angeles skyline. From tankers to drones and hydra-like extraterrestrials, the aliens are inescapable and seemingly indestructible. From the masterful directors, The Brothers Strause Skyline will keep you guessing in this action-packed sci-fi adventure.

Movie Review:

Give “Skyline” this — it has its moments. Unfortunately, you can’t make a movie strung together with a moment here and there. You actually need, you know, a decent storyline and decent characters to tie them all together. Unfortunately the script by Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell mistakes razor-thin personalities for characterization and essentially a series of effects-heavy alien “creatures” wreaking havoc as a storyline. You actually, you know, need more than that, guys.

The story is pretty simple: couple Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) have arrived in Los Angeles to visit Jarrod’s childhood friend (Donald Faison), who has since made good enough to keep around a trophy girlfriend (Brittany Daniel) inside an expensive, luxurious high-rise apartment, while at the same time shagging the cute help (Crystal Reed). The old pals make up for lost time and party the night away, but morning brings something very unexpected.

Yup, you guessed it. Giant alien ships have appeared over the world’s cities, and in no time begin, literally, vacuuming people into their bellies, using a blue-tint light to lure in anyone within reach. When the lure doesn’t work, the aliens send out a variety of flying droids and monolithic, seemingly unkillable creatures armed with snapping tentacles and other deadly looking appendages. It’s not looking good for the buddies and their gals, who huddle inside the rich friend’s apartment in hopes of being saved either by the military or some “Independence Day”-like “Eureka!” moment. They are soon joined by the building’s super (David Zayas), and must watch helplessly as the aliens ravage Los Angeles outside their windows.

See, there’s your biggest problem right there. The filmmakers have constructed an elaborate alien invasion, but have stuck us inside a high-rise with a bunch of very unlikeable people. In lieu of actually jumping into the thick of action, we have to see everything through the characters’ POV, which invariably involves gazing off at the action from miles away or through telescopes. If your idea of a big-budget alien invasion movie is cowering behind a kitchen appliance as the battle rages outside your apartment, then “Skyline” is your dream movie.

The alien menace only really impacts us (and the characters) when those snazzy tentacles or hulking monsters stalk nearby. It makes for an interesting cat-and-mouse game, to be sure, but you can’t help but be reminded of the pure inconsequential nature of these people’s lives in the larger scheme of things. I mean, aliens are vacuuming people into their ships. Why should I care about a bunch of bickering 20-somethings compared to that?

But I’ll give credit where credit is due: “Skyline” looks pretty damn good. Directed by former special effects guys Colin Strause and Greg Strause (the brothers last helmed “Aliens vs Predator: Requiem”), the film always looks well-shot and the effects are stunning, especially given that the brothers are working within a limited budget here. Despite its studio-backed financing, “Skyline” was made for a scant $10 million, shockingly cheap compared to similarly themed efforts like the recent “Battle: Los Angeles” (which, coincidentally, the brothers also worked on), which boasted a $70 million production budget. Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys and Aliens”, meanwhile, is saddled (ahem) with something north of $100 million in terms of budget, if not more.

With what they had to work with, you can honestly understand why the Strauses decided to spend more time getting the visual effects right. The script was just not there to make a great, insightful movie, and perhaps they realized that the eye candy was the thing that was going to make or break the movie. In that respect, “Skyline” comes out looking pretty rosy. It’s too bad the characters are, as the British would say, complete rubbish. Forget 20-somethings; these guys look, act, and sound more like middle school rejects, with more than one scene of characters moping when he/she doesn’t get his way.

Blu-Ray Special Features:

The Blu-ray of “Skyline” arrives with full-length commentary by directing siblings Greg and Colin Strause, as well as co-writers/producers Liam O’Donnell and Joshua Cordes on a separate track.

Extras include 6 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes, as well as 2 minutes and 30 seconds of alternate scenes. You also get your usual assortment of trailers. There’s also a 10 minutes-long “Pre-Visualization” feature on the pool escape and rooftop rescue sequences with optional commentary from the filmmakers. Essentially, you get to watch those scenes all over again, except this time in really bad CG animation instead of live-action.

The picture quality is, of course, outstanding. This is the kind of movie designed to be seen on Blu-ray.

“Skyline” will be available on DVD and Blu-ray March 22, 2011 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.