Mr. Beaks Surveys The Humanity-Hoovering Wreckage Of Colin And Greg Strause's Alien Invasion Flick, SKYLINE!
Published at: Oct. 13, 2010, 6:01 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
Colin and Greg Strause's SKYLINE is a sci-fi epic born out of acute frustration with the studio filmmaking process. For now, it's a minor revolt; a bid to make a seasonal tentpole movie without the interference of executives and their typically meddlesome notes. But if their alien invasion yarn connects with audiences this November, there will then exist a template for keeping the studio out of the creative process on an event film for as long as possible (until it's time to distribute the finished product) - at which point we might have a revolution on our hands.
Of course, the Strause brothers have a unique advantage in that they've got their own visual f/x company, Hydraulx, which has provided eye-popping CG for movies like THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, 2012 and IRON MAN 2. I was invited to attend a press event at the Santa Monica facility a few weeks ago, and they've got a pretty impressive set-up. They've got a small army of animators clicking away at their workstations, a handful of RED cameras, and lots of talented technicians ready to run out and shoot at a moment's notice. And as battle-scarred directors in their own right (having survived the ordeal of AVP: ALIENS VS. PREDATOR - REQUIEM), the Strause brothers have enough experience to pretty much run the show from preproduction onward without the "assistance" of overpaid execs. "It's just fucking amazing how many assholes it takes to get a single decision made," says Colin Strause. "It's the most frustrating part of the whole thing because you can't fucking do anything."
The brothers and the Hydraulx crew pretty much did everything on SKYLINE: the screenplay was written by f/x artists Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, they filled out the cast with actors they wanted sans auditioning (save for Donald Faison, who had to read twice - and only because he initially misread the tone of the film), and shot most of the movie in the apartment complex where Greg lived. It was a no-frills forty-two days of principal photography in a lot of respects ("Independent means pretty much no stuntmen," observes Faison), but the brothers seem happy with the movie - to the extent that they're not shy about talking up its franchise potential.
Judging from the select scenes they showed us last month, I'm more intrigued by the Strause brothers' resourcefulness than the perfunctory narrative they've laid out thus far. I missed the Comic Con presentation in July, but I'm told the "First Contact" sequence - in which we see hundreds of thousands of human bodies being vacuumed up into hovering spacecraft - is much more impressive now that it's mostly finished. I love the idea of watching this unimaginably horrific event from a widescreen-framed distance; this is the way it would look to the naked eye. It's a disquieting sequence, and it's something I've never seen before - which sets it apart from nearly every studio tentpole I had the misfortune to sit through this year (including the Hydraulx-assisted IRON MAN 2). We also learn that the bright light emitted from the ships has a transfixing and gradually deleterious effect on the human body (after a prolonged stare, you're basically sucked dry ala LIFEFORCE).
The second bit of footage shown to us was titled "Garage Attack", in which several groups of frantic survivors load up their vehicles and, after some squabbling, tear ass out of the structure. The first car out of the garage gets squashed by the foot of a giant alien. (The frantic and desperate quality of the action here is reminiscent of Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS.)
Next was "DB Sequence", which revealed a major spoiler. Without giving anything away, one of the principals is snatched up by an be-tentacled alien, who makes a meal of the human's brain. Pretty nifty. And if you're thinking this is an R-rated movie at this point, the Strause brothers have actually found a way to make this process bloodless. Unless there's a scene of consensual, emotionally-honest adult sex at some point, I'm pretty sure the MPAA will give SKYLINE a PG-13.
Finally, we watched an "Aerial Battle", which is mostly viewed from the apartment-bound (but telescope-enhanced) perspective of David Zayas's character. There's an unmistakable INDEPENDENCE DAY echo here: i.e. we're rooting for a solitary aircraft to evade enemy fire long enough to deliver a coup de grace (in this case, it's a nuclear missile). I'm not going to say if the nuke hits its target, but it does detonate. This seemed like a rather decisive moment in the movie to me (the explosion causes all manner of collateral damage), but when I asked the Strause brothers where it occurs in the narrative, they assured me that the biggest set pieces take place after this sequence.
The Strause brothers are promising a "Biblical scale" invasion in SKYLINE that wipes out 99.9% of the human race by Act Two. They're not fucking around. But while I'm impressed by their ability to capture blockbuster-level spectacle on a low-ish budget, I've no idea if their characters and story will be interesting enough to get us back in the theater a second time. Because all successful franchises have memorable characters and stories, right?
There's talent here, and no shortage of confidence. If they muck up the studio way of making big-budget event movies, cool. If they simply make a good movie, even better.