Saturday, March 9, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: Dark Skies

Take the basic story structure of Poltergeist, sprinkle in a little Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, bake for ninety seven minutes and you'll get something that looks and tastes like Dark Skies.

Directed by Scott Stewart (who directed both Legion and Priest a few years back), Dark Skies follows the Poltergeist template with remarkable fidelity. It is for all intents and purposes a remake, but with aliens instead of ghosts. Virtually every scene has an analog in Poltergeist. Need proof? Here's your proof right here, baby!

• Both films take place in a normal, everyday photogenic subdivision. Idyllic, even.

• Both feature normal, everyday photogenic families.

• Both feature mysterious and supernatural "guests" who talk to the youngest child through technology. In Poltergeist the ghosts communicate through the TV set, in Dark Skies the aliens use walkie-talkies.

• Unexplained events happen in both households, centering around food and the kitchen.

• Both concentrate on the father's career (though in Poltergeist the father is promoted; in Dark Skies he's downsized. Sign of the times, I suppose).

• Both feature scenes of the mother doing housework and inadvertently discovering the youngest child talking to the intruders.

• Both films involve the death of birds (the kids' pet canary Tweety in Poltergeist; three flocks of wild birds in Dark Skies).

• In both movies the supernatural events escalate over time until they become life-threatening.

• Both families call on an "expert" in supernatural phenomena in an effort to rid their homes of the incidents.

• There's an all-out third act assault on both houses by the supernatural forces.    

• Both families end up fleeing their respective homes in the denouements.

As I was saying, it's virtually a remake of Poltergeist.

SPOILERS AHOY!!!

The Plot:
• The Barretts are a normal, everyday photogenic family living in the suburbs. Things take a turn for the weird when various family members begin hearing voices and "losing time"-- finding themselves outside in the middle of the night with no idea how they got there. The events escalate until parents Daniel and Lacy Barrett contact an expert who tells them they've been targeted by Gray Aliens. Said aliens want their youngest son for unknown purposes. Not taking kindly to this bit of news, the Barretts fortify their suburban home in an effort to ward off the space aliens who want their son.

Pros:
• This is a "slow-burn" movie. It takes its old sweet time in telling the story. Some might say this is another word for "dull," but I liked that it built up its tension gradually.

• The two kids were really good actors, which helped sell the outlandish story.

• J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from the good Spider-Man movies) is amazing as always. Too bad they couldn't afford him for more than one day's filming.

• If you're looking for a special effects extravaganza, look elsewhere. There's no Close Encounters awe-fest at the end. It's a quiet little film with very few effects, which I think helps rather than hinders it.

Cons:
• The film begins with this Arthur C. Clarke quote: "Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." Whose boneheaded idea was that? I'm assuming the fact that aliens were behind everything was supposed to be a shocking reveal in the film. Fat chance of that when you start things off with that quote! Three seconds in and we already know it's aliens. Might as well grab your coat, gather your belongings and exit the theater.

• It might have been nice to get a little bit better look at the aliens. In every scene in which they appear they're standing in the extreme background, out of focus or in the shadows. You gotta show the monster eventually guys, else why make a monster movie?

A veritable remake of Poltergeist that substitutes aliens for ghosts. I give it a B-.

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