28 November 2010

Skyline *

This is a confusing concept, so bear with me: If I were to sit down right now and make a detailed checklist of Things To Not Do when making a film, especially the kind of film I've been writing lately (and just so we're clear, I have sat down and made such checklists more than once), and then if someone else were to stumble upon my checklist and hand it to some special effects wizards with a very douchey aesthetic and tell them it was an outline for a small-budget alien invasion story… well, that's just about the only way I can imagine Skyline coming into existence.

Don't be inconsistent with your monsters/threat: keep it simple. Make sure the monster's actions, even if we don't know the motivation, remain consistent and follow some kind of logical pattern. If you have something as efficient as giant human-sucking vacuum cleaners, does it really make sense to then round up the individual strays with massive, cyber-cthulhu Matrix squids? If you have something is brutally inefficient at human-brain harvesting as massive, cyber-cthulhu Matrix squids stalking highrise windows and chasing down individuals, does it really make sense for them to ignore easier targets to keep chasing the same target? (I guess you could try and make a case, when you discover why it's harvesting human brains, that a clever survivor's brain is more valuable than a passive victim's brain, but it really felt a lot more like they were motivated to keep chasing the guys the camera was following.)

A lot of people tell you you have to have likable characters. You don't. Or relatable characters. Technically you don't even need that. It's not complicated: you just need characters people care about. One way to do that is to make me like them. Another way is to make me relate to them. The only thing that matters, though, is that I care about what happens to them, and want to spend time with them. Someone should have explained that to these guys. The characters here made me uncomfortable from frame one. They are shallow greaseballs and D-list actors all just barely on the sleazy-tan side of artificially attractive, and their motivations are petty and (worse) inconsistent. I didn't want to know what happened next because I didn't want to be in the same room as these people. It's like being in an elevator with a bunch of Malibu frat guys. All you can think about is the doors opening on your floor and you getting out, walking away, and never having to see or hear these people ever again. I'll admit that I was squirming with dread and discomfort throughout, but it had nothing to do with wondrous magic lights, aliens machines or brain-suckers.

Don't let the level of peril peak too early, and don't make it easy for your hero to beat obstacles. Too many close-calls or irrationally hesitating villain/monster moments and the conflict dissipates. It doesn't make a difference how many redshirts you kill. It only matters about your hero. And if your hero, by the way, is special, like if the magic light infected him with super strength and if his brain is somehow uncontrollable to whatever mecha-control other human brains succumb to, please make it make sense. Your audience -- whatever part of it is generous enough to give your movie the kind of thought you hope audiences will give it -- is going to wonder about stuff like this.

God. The bottom line here is, this movie was bad in the worst way: it wasn't even fun. The story is completely derivative (Cloverfield, Independence Day, The Mist, The Matrix, Starship Troopers and especially the Spielberg War of the Worlds) without adding anything substantial to the equation. There were a couple of concepts that maybe, if played just right and stretched out into weird existential levels (if handled like the tone of act two of War of the Worlds, say), might have been worthwhile -- but they weren't overly great. The aliens need your brains to run themselves, okay. And so -- what do you do with that? That concept could be better used than merely as an act-three denouement/twist. On top of everything else, a couple of times in the movie there seemed to be much more interesting stories going on elsewhere, but the camera refused to leave the side of this band of contributing-nothing-to-society, useless and thoroughly unappealing pretty nobodies.

On a personal note: right this second I feel very much like trashing all my work on my script and starting over afresh, or just looking for a new idea. I have an almost phobic kneejerk terror to the idea of making this movie; to the idea that someone like me will watch a film I've made and feel the way I do about Skyline, too exhausted to even bother rolling my eyes at the screen and saying, "So what?"

I mean, can you think of a worse effect a creative work can have on you than to corrode away your desire to make art yourself?

Seen at the Regal Lloyd Mall 8.

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