Skyline: A Movie Review
by John Lobell
[Spoiler alert] Mummy movies begin with the 1932 film The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, and subsequent mummy movies follow the pattern it lays down. Our mummy, who has survived for thousands of years (by the miracle of tana leaves) is seeking to kill a contemporary woman whom he intends to resurrect as his long lost love. The two of them will then become immortal and will hobnob with the gods.
The contemporary woman wants nothing of it. She wants to return to New Jersey where she will marry, raise kids, and live in a little house with a white picket fence. A reasonable choice on her part, but you would think with all those mummy movies, just once the woman would chose immortality and carousing with the gods. That would be a truly daring metaphysical choice. Skyline hints at the possibility.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Skyline gets a 15% with all critics and 0% with top critics (but 75% with audiences), together with the comment: “A middling sci-fi entry, Skyline offers proof that solid special effects alone cannot overcome a flat storyline filled with uninspired dialogue.” Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News states: “It’s finally here: The most boring alien-invasion movie ever.”
The genre: A group of people come together, party, go to sleep, are awakened by strange goings-ons. Earth has been invaded, explosions are going off around the city. Masses of people are being vacuumed up into the hovering invading bio-machines.
Our small party has to take on the aliens alone. Where is CNN?—off the air. Where is the military? As in the case of 9/11, nowhere to be found. Think of Cloverfield. Eventually the military does show up, but these aliens are tough, able to regenerate even after being hit by a small nuke.
The key to this genre is, of course, the characters—who they are, how they respond (“we should stay,” “no, we should run for it” – think Night of the Living Dead), and how they grow in response to the crisis. Remember Frank Darabont’s The Mist, which does well on this, and a hundred other horror thrillers. The reviews are correct, Skyline has fantastic effects but weak story, character, and dialogue. And in this genre, we have to like, or at least be interested in the characters. Very borderline here.
But then something almost daring happens. We never know where the aliens came from or their ultimate intentions, but what they are doing with the people they vacuum up is to suck out their brains and put them into their bio-robot warriors. This happens to our male lead (a transformation somewhat reminiscent of District 9—indeed, Skyline is a dozen familiar movies, starting with Independence Day, or even Plan 9 From Outer Space, patched together), but for some reason, he keeps part of his identity. He is now part of the Borg, but not fully. What will he do? Destroy the invader from inside (Tom Cruise with his hand grenades inside the walker in the recent War of the Worlds)? Join them? Be done in? He is protecting his girlfriend who is pregnant—the typical movie device for telling us there is a future. The movie ends without telling us what happens—might it be some merging of human and alien?
Recall the ending of Alien Resurrection. Sigourney Weaver returns to earth with alien DNA mingled with her own. What will follow? As Nietzsche points out, we as humans are not an end but a step in development. With our emerging technology of engineering DNA, we may soon be facing a post-human future. What will that mean? We await the filmmaker with the daring to speculate. Skyline almost goes there, but stops short.