Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Herr Wozzeck's Pit Fight: Skyline Vs. District 9

Warning: This pit fight will contain spoilers for both Skyline and District 9. You have been warned.

Okay, so I went to see Skyline last weekend, and I did not enjoy myself. It was a terrible movie, with terrible actors and a terrible script.

So if I told you that speculation was that it would be the next District 9, I'm sure you'd be hard-pressed to believe me on that. Yes, people actually thought it would be the next District 9, soley because both are low-budget sci-fi flicks about aliens. In fact, checking facts, Skyline was supposedly made for 10 million less than District 9.

That can't be the only link between them if Skyline is meant to be the next District 9.

So I've decided I'll pit them in a pit fight to prove once and for all that Skyline never had a chance in hell at being the next District 9.

Skyline Vs. District 9

Round 1: Story

And right off the bat we begin to see different things.

The focus of both movies is on the smaller people caught up in larger things. In the one, it's a group of ordinary people caught up in things; in fact, half the movie is spent watching things happen from that high-rise they're all in. In the other, it's just some guy doing stuff and then getting caught up in something greater than himself when he begins to mutate into an alien. Both have interesting angles on many things.

But there's one thing that seperates them; the method of first contact. One of the key things about District 9 was how it handled its aliens; they're more closely resembling African refugees than they are all-powerful invaders. This is one of the first things that should have tipped people off about it; the angle used for the aliens in Skyline is the same as it's always been with alien invasion stories. In District 9, meanwhile, the aliens aren't treated as invaders, but as victims, and the fact that they get thrown into an apartheid-type situation is more than enough proof that they are as different as can be. So the stories are automatically different.

In terms of plot, however, District 9 beats out Skyline. Yes, D9 might have a couple of plot holes for some people, but I'll take a plot hole over stupid characters doing face-palm inducing things just because the plot says so. As well, Skyline leaves a few plot threads hanging at the end, as well as having too many characters for its credit. D9 is more concentrated on a small group of characters and concepts, but it executes them all and explains them all well enough.

Winner: District 9

Round 2: Characters

Again, the two movies are completely different; both have fairly down-to-earth characters that are going about experiencing things beyond their control. And how they're written makes all the difference.

And both start off with fairly unlikeable main characters.

The problem, therefore, lies in the fact that the characters of Skyline aren't made to be jerks intentionally. Wikus of District 9 gleefully participates in what can arguably be termed genocide early on in the film, and some of it is truly difficult to watch. But it's intentional. In Skyline, we're introduced to the characters by watching them party. Oh, and they're also glaringly homophobic, which is something I didn't mention in the review because it's besides the point when they're all unlikeable for all sorts of other reasons.

The difference, then, lies in how they're written. And in this regard, District 9 easily beats Skyline. The problem with Skyline is that we're expected to sympathize with characters who are wholly unlikeable and have no development. Thus, we don't care about them. In District 9, however, we're not expected to until the plot demands it. And when the shit hits the fan in that movie? We actually do come to care about the main character. Wikus is written so much better than the entire cast of Skyline is chiefly because of this.

And the fact that we can sympathize with someone who's participated in the persecution of a race of sentient beings is what gives District 9 the point.

Winner: District 9

Round 3: Acting

Again, another similarity between the two is that the actors are all small in both movies. Although, that's also a bit of a stretch: most of the cast of Skyline are actors with fairly large reputations on TV: Jarrod was played by Gabe on Six Feet Under, Terry was played by Turq on Scrubs, and Oliver was played by Angel Batista on Dexter. This is a bit of a stretch, given that Sharlto Copley was virtually unknown in America before District 9 came along-- in fact, one could say it launched his career, if Copley's role in the recent A-Team reboot says anything.

And yet, the TV veterans all lose to the unknown man. This may have something to do with the fact that most of District 9's screenplay is improvised, but overall District 9 has much stronger acting than Skyline. The TV veterans can't get any kind of great emotion, particularly from the ladies who stand around to be nudged around by the men of the movie. And the acting as a result is terrible. I think the improvised screenplay of District 9 allowed Copley to bring something more personal to the table, and I think for this his performance is so much more effective because he actually lets the emotions ring through. And that's a lot more than I can say for Skyline

Winner: District 9

Round 4: Material

This can be summed up like this:

Skyline: Unlikeable characters with no development do incredibly retarded things while going on and on with melodrammatics about the state of the world and how stuff is horrible and oh who the fuck cares by the time we reach the one hour mark anyhow? Oh, and that ending comes right the fuck out of nowhere and is needlessly dark when compared to the rest of the movie.

District 9: An unlikeable character somehow becomes likeable because he's thrown into stuff and begins to see the true horrors of what's unfolding around him and oh my god he's turning into an alien and it's all gritty and stuff. Oh, and that ending is as dark as the rest of the movie, and there is an actual tear-jerking moment at the end.

I think you have a clear idea of where I'm going with this, but I'll add one last variable to this plate: one reason why District 9 is probably more effective is because it fleshes out its universe. We get development on basically everything, which suits its apartheid allegory. It gives the world of District 9 the feeling of being alive, which is much more than what can be said for Skyline. It's arguably fitting given that the world is being gutted in the latter, but it also means we care less about what is going on around the characters.

So I think you know what gets the point by now.

Winner: District 9

Round 5: Special Effects

And for our 5th round, we have special effects on the plate. Both are low-budget movies that have to give off impressive special effects to give the feeling that this really is an alien invasion.

Basically, both movies use a ton of CGI, with a couple of practical make-up jobs where applicable. That's the simplest I can put it.

The problem? Skyline's CGI is far too conspicuous. There were a couple of points where it's obvious it's CGI, and it frequently calls attention to itself. This is especially telling considering that the Strause Brothers are VFX experts.

But then again, so was Niell Blomkamp, and the CGI for District 9 is so much better than it was for Skyline. The aliens actually feel real, and it's extremely difficult to tell that they're CGI. It's a real credit to VFX people when the CGI doesn't call attention to itself at all.

So the point, and the match, goes to District 9

Winner: District 9

General Winner: District 9, performing a TKO on Skyline.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

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