Themed movies often come in cycles. 1997 saw dueling volcano movies and 1998 brought us a pair of asteroid films. The fall of 2010 and March of this year has brought back the alien invasion movie; a personal fave of mine.
Like a lot of you, I spend a good amount of time surfing the internet. I love reading alternate opinions and seeing the advance word on new films. Both Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles have taken a beating from critics and internet trolls alike. Roger Ebert, a man I respect, said that people who like Battle: Los Angeles are “idiots.” Those are his words, not mine. I like Ebert, but he’s wrong; dead wrong.
I’m a populist: a man of the people. I don’t normally go for conspiracy theories, but sometimes they are true. Most movie critics are stuck-up, bourgeois, crabby old people who have seen so many movies that they have forgotten how to have a good time. It’s true and I’ve seen this attitude among many of the Portland-area critics. Junk is still junk, but there isn’t as much as they would have you believe. Both Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles have gotten horrible reviews but neither is nearly as bad as the so-called “experts” would tell you.
Both films focus on a small group of people dealing with an alien invasion and both films are set in Los Angeles. Skyline follows a pair of friends. One is a rich young filmmaker and the other is a struggling artist. The friends, their ladies, and a few others are stuck in a luxury apartment building when the invasion goes down. As humans around the city are getting sucked into the sky, the group tries to find a way to survive and escape.
Battle: Los Angeles is also centered on an intimate group but this time it’s a squad of Marines sent into Santa Monica to retrieve civilians trapped in a police station. At the last minute, the squad is assigned Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a controversial hero who lost his entire squad in Iraq. Populated with the usual military clichés (including a raw and inexperienced Lieutenant), the group must save the civvies, kill some aliens, and find a way to turn the tide of a losing battle.
The usual complaints about these two films involve the scripts and I will give that some credence. Skyline’s characters are perhaps the most unlikeable group of protagonists I’ve seen in a long time. Seriously. I don’t think there is one person in this group that you’d care to see survive an alien invasion. They represent the “me-first,” immature generation and you’re not really sad to see any of them get killed. When alien beams are sucking people into the mothership you really have to love it when a woman is more concerned about being mad at her cheating boyfriend than…you know…finding a way to escape the aliens. Dialogue and situations like this earn Skyline its poor reputation. The ending is also frustratingly vague. I had to listen to the director commentary track to understand what the heck they were trying to say. The explanation didn’t satisfy me and the ending comes off as needlessly ridiculous.
Battle: Los Angeles also suffers from the normal complaints issued at big-budget popcorn flicks. The soldiers tend to blend together and what little backstory they receive seems superfluous and a cheap way to humanize them. However, this might be the best recruiting tool the U.S. Marine Corps could ever hope to have. The men on display are manly AND patriotic. This movie makes you feel good to be an American without all the political nonsense that these types of movies generate. The only thing missing from Battle: Los Angeles is a shot of someone raising an American flag.
Some stupidity does arise. The proposed meaning of the alien invasion and the fuel for their technology is beyond stupid and it would have been better if those explanations had been deleted from the story. It wasn’t necessary to explain and their absence would have prevented a lot of head-scratching and unintentional humor. Actually, that goes for Skyline as well. We all know aliens want (1) our women, (2) our resources, or (3) our brains. The aliens in Skyline want one of the three and although the cliché is tongue-in-cheek, it looks pretty silly when realized on film.
On the other hand, both movies have strong special effects and nifty action sequences. Skyline is directed by The Brothers Strauss (the most pretentious name in filmmaking today) and long-time readers may remember that I lit them up big time for the atrocious Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. The Brothers Strauss are special effects guys who have lucked their way into the directors chairs. Accordingly, Skyline boasts some great FX work which manages to make the film bearable.
Battle: Los Angeles does its best to mimic combat classics like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down and it succeeds. This is a beefy, loud, bombastic, tense, and violent movie. The only thing keeping it from an R rating is a lack of bloodshed. That’s not to say guys don’t get killed. They bite it in painful ways. I love how the aliens, although strong, aren’t invincible. They use weapons that fire bullets and missiles and there isn’t one laser beam or force field to be found. This is good because it makes the combat grittier and more realistic and that makes for a more exciting film. Director Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) overcomes the low-rent horror films found on his resume with an exciting film that will surely test the limits of home audio systems once it hits video.
Maybe the influence of the internet lowered my expectations too much. Skyline still isn’t great, or even all that good but it wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be. Battle: Los Angeles is worthy of paying that extra cash to see it in a theater. The script isn’t as good as The King’s Speech but would you expect that? This isn’t a film pandering for an Oscar. It’s meant to entertain and deliver visceral thrills and it does it well. By the way, between Battle: Los Angeles and The Dark Knight Aaron Eckhart rules the universe. I’d follow that guy into battle anytime! I’m normally a peaceful and non-violent guy. But if aliens should show up at our door, I’ll be the first one to say “praise the lord and pass the ammunition.”
Battle: Los Angeles – in theaters
4 out of 5
Skyline - on DVD and Blu-ray March 22
2.5 out of 5
The Skyline blu-ray looks and sounds great, putting the film’s action on full display. Bonus features include two commentary tracks; one with directors Greg and Colin Strause, and another by Co-Writer/Producer Liam O’Donnell and Co-Writer Joshua Cordes. Additional features include deleted and alternate scenes, two rough computer-animated test sequences and trailers.
Tony Robinson is a past host of KATU's Movie Guys film review segment and currently reviews movies exclusively for KATU.com. He lives in Portland with his wife, son and action figure collection. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.