DVD Review: Falling Skies Season One
|REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS|
Will the UK be taken with a Spielberg-backed Invasion...?
Having to review the first season of a new Sci-Fi TV series landing on our shores holds me with trepidation...
Falling Skies is the story of Earth having been vanquished by an extra-terrestrial force made up of six-legged creatures humans call ‘Skitters’, supported by their bipedal counterparts the ‘Mechs’, who love nothing better to round up people and slap mind-controlling slugs onto their backs. But not to be beaten, a group of Bostonians rise up to create a militia to fight the invaders back. Yeah right, in their dreams…
I've seen too many Science Fiction productions take flight only to be shot down in flames. We could write the mother of all lists with the number of programs that got canned in the last 5 years let alone since the days of Star Trek on TV. But, with the Internet ablaze about the last press conference that the Firefly cast and crew gave at this year's Comic Con, who could be blamed for thinking that sometimes good things can be given a second chance? That Science Fiction can grow over here and that long-running series can be a reality for fans to enjoy. Firefly could come back (Ha of course that would be wishful thinking and if you've seen the videos on YouTube there's no chance. Wait… did you really expect me to say anything about the rumours of a new series of Firefly in this article? About the spurious story that Joss Whedon had a meeting with George Lucas. Come on. Seriously?)
"This hooked me like Dark Skies – thirty seconds and you're in."
But Falling Skies is a second chance to make a really good series about earth dominated by an alien horde. Who remembers V the series? The episodic first movie was ground-breaking TV, the subsequent series were rubber-faced lizard bollocks. Alien Nation was aimed at multicultural integration. The film was well produced but the series felt lame. And I wonder who remembers Earth: Final Conflict. It felt confused and dull from the start and it’s quite a feat for having lasted 5 seasons. It wouldn’t stand a chance these days. No wonder it stayed in Gene Roddenberry’s notebook until after he died. It stayed there for a darn good reason.
Well, that was the backdrop in my head when sitting down with the first season of Falling Skies. Would it become a long, drawn-out version of V or worse? I swear I could hear a mechanical 'meh' come from my Xbox when I shoved in the disc.
You should never judge a DVD by its cover or by its interface. When it started up, the menu system looked like it had been made at home and it was a hooky copy. I checked the packaging. No, it was the real deal retail product that I unwrapped. Oh crap. This was not a good sign.
So with a heavy heart I went into the first episode.
This hooked me like Dark Skies – thirty seconds and you're in. By the end of the first minute you know pretty much what’s going on, who the main character is – Tom Mason (Mms a bit like Gordon Freeman – both academics) – and you care about what’s going on. This is a prime example that shows just how truly and utterly crap that BBC bollocks was that was known as Outcasts. I will leave that there.
Falling Skies was created by Robert Rodat, best known for writing for Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, which explains why the pilot is so well made and feels so very Spielberg. And why the writing team know how to establish a lot in a very short space of time. It’s very slick in character handling, story establishment and drama, like soldiers making an assault on a beach head.
Noah Wyle certainly has got a lot of work to do from coming from a very successful medical drama, E.R. I think he's a perfect choice for a character that feels it has been inspired by thinking men’s heroes such as Gordon Freeman mixed with real people such as Samuel Adams. (If you don’t live in the US and didn’t study history go and look him up. A great patriot and malter – a man with a beer named after him – what does that say? My kind of guy.)
The mark of Spielberg – a blessing or a curse?
The name of Spielberg still has some gravitas behind a production, especially when looking at science fiction films such as Super 8, which did reasonably well and called up a very nostalgic reflection on some of his own work such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind mixed with The Goonies. But it has been less successful in terms of television series such as Taken, which, while it did showcase a range of excellent writers and directors, overall its pace and general traction with the main theme of three families and their long history of alien encounters did at times feel like The Waltons meets aliens. Taken started off so well then slid into a comfortable rut, occasionally breaking into bouts of interest. The future child's narration, voiced by Dakota Fanning who would later star in Spielberg's version of War of the Worlds, tried to create some feeling of continuity between episodes that didn't always work. So how will Falling Skies fare?
The renewal for a second season proves that there is a firm following, and a vigorous push in storyline keeps the interest high. This series, whilst having touches of Spielberg, soon drives itself out into a series that feels responsibly handled into a positive new addition to a long tradition of alien invasion stories that is rich in scope and deliveries a range of interesting characters.
Story and characters to really care about
That’s what really makes Falling Skies stand out. It’s grown-up drama and I like the fact that it’s not afraid to hold the foot off the pedal on the action in order to actually let real drama take place. There’s still plenty of blowing things up and alien-bashing, though. That too is something done with a sense of realism. It’s not easy, pretty or, you feel after a while, very decent, once you start to see that they are similar to us inside. But there’s more to fighting a war than blowing up aliens – it’s not a bug hunt. It’s still at times edge of your seat action side-by-side with intense personal drama.
There are several themes that reflect on the large scale and in the small scale between the characters. The ideas of liberation, redemption, and a journey are all relevant for all the people we meet as well as mankind in general.
The second season is beyond a doubt a success. It's good to know that Falling Skies has both been given a chance and that the shortcomings in Season One have been addressed in the second series. The critical reviews and audience figures are strong. So I expect this to build. It will be interesting to see how TNT develops this property into online entertainment as well. Wil Wheaton (remember Wesley Crusher – well he’s got a beard now and looks like… Wesley Crusher with a beard) has got in on the act so far as presenting an after-show show called Second Watch – yes, like Doctor Who. It’s on the Falling Skies website, but if you are in the UK you can’t see it. Probably just as well. Wheaton fills up my Twitter, Google+ and every other social network feed with dribble.
Falling Skies is quick to develop into a range of questions and does a very good job of racking them up to then be partially answered in turn as the series progresses. Within a few episodes we soon want to know more about Mason's son, what are Harnesses and how can they be removed, what do the invading aliens really want, what are the Mechs and how do the 'Skitters' think? While this helps to keep interest it also helps to avoid disappointment in an episode. The writers know they can't afford to have a 'filler' episode as viewers today have little time for a series that can't create a consistent rewarding episode every time.
Story engagement – 4/5
Grabbed me within the 30 second zone. The writers have created some broad arcs and appear to be avoiding what could otherwise be a very repetitive strike mission storyline with spots of love interest and 'family ties that bind' mush.
Character development and interest: Whilst leading man Noah Wyle is not the most charismatic, he is supported by a range of interesting supporting cast. He's also very much an ordinary guy and not an action hero. He relies on his team and his relationship with his eldest and youngest sons is engaging. But he's no ‘Malcolm Reynolds’ or ’McGyver’. ‘Tom Mason’ is just not enigmatic enough and he’s no ‘Gordon Freeman’. And Freeman doesn't even talk! That's a bit of a worry. Season 2 will tell.
Special effects – 4/5
For seething that isn't a movie, the CGI is pretty good. What makes it better are the real puppets and costumes used to interact with the aliens. The 'Skitters' are visible and a clearly competent race that didn't just get lucky as with so many alien invaders.
Longevity – 4/5
Bet it will go to 3, maybe even 4, seasons if they can keep the pace up and move the story along. At some stage the aliens' relationship either degenerates, not exterminating us, or they admit they need to work with humanity. If they leave, the show would be pointless.
Offshoot chance – 5/5
It's an obvious route to comic and game. I can't imagine fan sites being set up to join the resistance like the fanboys who setup sites for ‘Browncoats’ and ‘Blue Sun’ nuts. There’s already a very well received comic book which is selling well and I’m sure there will be more as the series develops.
Entertainment value – 4/5
I'm enjoying Falling Skies and it's a fresh approach to an old story idea. The characters are growing and there are lots of threads that are both quickly raised and then tied, as with 24, which I think was one of the best television series ever created. But while my kids are collectively giving it the 'meh' approach of indifference and my wife has lost interest after Episode 3, I suspect that the appeal is going to be limited. As I said, I like it and I like to see how humanity can work together to both beat and understand their alien masters. But the writers need to keep a steady hand on the plot so that it doesn't end up in a loop of small battle wins. At some point it needs to explore mankind either winning or losing the war. When they do that, what happens then?
Audience reach – 3.5/5
While yet to make an impact in the UK, the BBC would do well to spend their pennies on buying the rights to broadcast this series, especially since they don't seem to be able to make their own Sci-Fi that is any good. It's not as gripping as 24 but it does have an appeal to anyone who likes a solid story without cliché. There's no superhero machismo here; it's a hard, dirty fight with ordinary people making difficult choices in a situation that almost feels like it would happen this way.
A proper Science-Fiction drama. Season One is a great start and looking forward to Season Two. Don’t let the shoddy DVD interface put you off. Note to BBC - Survivors should have been like this, you muppets. In the UK you can watch Season 2 on FX. Or just wait for the DVD to come out. Personally I hope it comes out on iTunes, but no sign as of looking at the end of July. Get the latest on Falling Skies over at http://www.fallingskies.com/.
Falling Skies is a Dreamworks Television Production for TNT.
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