Falling Skies

For several months before the premiere of Falling Skies I devoured articles and ogled pictures of what there was to come over the summer months. I’ve been a fan of science fiction for as long as I can remember and just as much a fan of Steven Spielberg for just as long.

Alien invasions are typical of some of the most interesting and memorable movies over the years. Almost every year or two we get a little something to add to the list: Classics like War Of The Worlds and The Day The Earth Stood Still, 70’s and 80’s fear mongering in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Thing and all the way up to more recent efforts like Battle: Los Angeles and Super 8. I don’t think any of these could be described as the greatest or most accomplished of movies, but to me they share a common and important factor: they’re fun to watch. Alien invasion/occupation movies can often fall into the footsteps of their predecessors, repeating the same ideas and adding very little originality. I think that may be one of the reasons I’m always happy to watch more science fiction. I’m always hoping for something new, something different, a little magic.

Recently TV has been a little thin on the ground with good science fiction. I’m going to lay some of the blame at the feet of SyFy here but the truth is that without originality and quality production values (in terms of writing, acting etc.) no television series is going to survive. “V” was the most recent series to offer hope. But it was falling over almost as soon as it got going, and after two seasons it was cancelled. I’m not writing this to go through all of the things that I thought were wrong with “V” but I will say that I thought there was a lot with the show that worked, but unfortunately the problems were bigger and more obvious than the good parts.

So it was with great anticipation that I looked to Falling Skies. I watched every episode, and could offer an opinion on each one individually, but I’m going to offer a more general opinion of the series as a whole. Falling Skies has ended now, after a ten episode run, and it’s already been renewed for a second season in summer 2012. I suppose this means that other than just being successful critically and with fans it must also have been a commercial winner. Either that or the almighty Spielberg cast his eye of power in the right direction.

The Writing

Talking about the writing of a show or a movie can often be very difficult. The writing is by far the most important thing to a production. But what do we talk about specifically? The central plot? The side plots? The dialogue? The fleshing out of characters? All of the above?

The main story is quite simple: Aliens invade Earth, some people survive, some are killed, kids are kidnapped (“harnessed” for the lingo specific), survivors band together and keep trying to survive, survivors eventually fight back. Okay that’s a severe generalisation, but it works for the purpose here. The story is quite well crafted. There is a constant feeling of desperation and fear throughout each episode and it is very well conveyed by most of the actors and the atmosphere (lighting and sound) support it very well. It also progressed very strongly from episode to episode, the story was always about survival, but wrapped around that were tales about the need for family unity, the desire to strike back, the gulf between civilians and soldiers.

For the most part these side themes and plots were structured very well and suited the core story, except for the occasional waterfall of cheese where the viewer was drowned in what could only be described as the shows desire to force us to feel sympathy and care for particular characters and their plight. I’ll name and shame what got to me: Firstly the pregnancy side story, I didn’t care, I don’t care, and I won’t care. Secondly there was Tom Mason’s youngest son. I can only imagine he was added in for the “cute-kid” factor as otherwise he was pointless. And finally Rick, the un-harnessed skitter-lover. He was wretched and annoying all the way up to the last episodes, and then all of a sudden he was developed into an interesting character. Yes it was worth the wait, but not the pain.

The dialogue was smart and sharp. It wasn’t meandering and it felt as if each character had their own voice, and that the writers had really found it. This is also to do with the casting, but I’ll get to that later. The way the characters spoke with each other felt natural, and their own pain and fear was well delivered.

For the most part the characters were well written and felt very much a part of the story. For a short arc of only ten episodes a lot of characters went through a nice amount of development and it all seemed to suit the story very naturally. Again the inclusion of Tom’s youngest son was an irritation, and his presence in most episodes allowed only for emotionally forced moments and opportunities to display protective parenthood.

The Casting

I’ll keep this one short. Noah Wyle: Excellent, been a fan since ER. Will Patton: Best thing in the show, perfect addition. Drew Roy: A non annoying teenager, “V” see here for how to do this. Connor Jessup: Another teenager that wasn’t annoying, really enjoyed his performance. Moon Bloodgood: Good choice for a strong female, much needed. Sarah Carter: I love you. Colin Cunningham: Perfect anti-hero.

That’s obviously not all of the cast, and I’d like to make special mention of Steven Weber and Henry Czerny, both of whom were strong villainous types (of a sort in the case of Steven Weber), and both of whom delivered excellent performances.

The Special Effects

Obviously this is an important issue for a science fiction production. The fear is always that they will look unrealistic or cheap. The design of the different types of aliens was very good, and largely believable. I felt the mechs could have used a little more time and money, but for the most part they looked quite good. The alien structure and vehicles were unique enough, at least to my eye, but were never featured too heavily.

The most constant example of special effects was the so called harness, a parasite type creature that attached itself to the spinal column of human youths.  It was a simple enough design, but it drove the plot of several episodes. It’s a good example of how to effectively keep things simple when it comes to the effects, how to use them as a plot device, or in support of the story, not so much to use them as the story itself.

The very best thing about the effects in Falling Skies is that they were pretty much always in the background. And when they were brought to the forefront they were exceptionally well done and very much essential to what was happening.

Any Other Business?

Since they are definitely making another season there’s a few things I’d like to see.

  • Less of Noah Wyle’s relationship with his youngest son. I don’t want to see him harnessed. Just fading into obscurity.
  • More of Will Patton’s family story. That was good stuff, and his own break down in the show was excellent.
  • More of Sarah Carter. Just because.
  • Even more of Pope. He’s a great character, and has driven the story forward in a couple of the episodes.
  • Greater conflict between civilians and soldiers, developing into actual infighting and a possible split.
I liked this show  lot. It had it’s ups and downs as with most shows. A couple of early episodes were slow and a little meandering and at one point it seemed like angsty teens were going to take over, but by the mid season I think the show really found itself and the strongest story points were being delivered. I wholly recommend Falling Skies to any science fiction fan and would suggest that it’s a nice intro to the genre for the wary and unfamiliar.

2 thoughts on “Falling Skies

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