[img]http://www.dvdsreleasedates.com/covers/dark-skies-blu-ray-cover-05.jpg[/img]Releasing/Participating Studio(s): Starz/Anchor Bay
Disc/Transfer Information: Region A; High Definition 1080p 2.40:1 (Original Aspect 2.39:1)
Video Codec Information: MPEG-4 AVC 25GB Blu-ray Disc
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Scott Charles Stewart
Starring Cast: Keri Russell, Dakota Goyo, Josh Hamilton, Annie Thurman, J.K. Simmons, Trevor St. John
ONCE YOU’VE BEEN CHOSEN,
YOU BELONG TO THEM.
This was more than just a “pretty good film” – in fact, I truly enjoyed Dark Skies after anxiously awaiting its home video arrival following the kinetic trailers that were put out for it…notably the one including that clip that depicts Keri Russell creeping into one of her kids’ bedrooms only to have the daylights scared out of her when she sees an alien-like figure/being looming over the kid’s bed…I knew this was going to be a pretty solid alien abduction effort.
And you know something? It was. I applaud Scott Charles Stewart on this one…we have solid, un-hammy or over-the-top acting performances (especially from J.K. Simmons who nearly made me cry in his performance of the dummy plant manager in New in Town), absolutely frightening pacing and sense of dread that builds throughout the film and an overall nice, solid, tight execution of the abduction genre. While not quite as frightening or jump-inducing as The Fourth Kind – which ended up to be proven to be a “hoax” with regard to the film’s so-called “real time footage” and “alien voice audio tapes” – this film definitely had me on the edge of my seat, and finally reinvented the alien mythology to represent something other than what has come before it in far-reaching endeavors like Independence Day.
Let’s talk about the genre itself for a minute before we delve into Dark Skies. This is a very, very touchy subject amongst not only Americans, but people of our world. I mean, you either believe or you don’t; for what it’s worth, most so-called “witnesses” to extraterrestrial activity report almost the exact same thing when it comes time to describe the beings they encounter: These wide, massive heads with the gigantic black eyes and stick figure bodies…is this a coincidence? An elaborate widespread hoax? A way to just cash in on everyone else’s stories…or do these beings actually exist, visit our planet and expose themselves to only a select few? Until it happens to one of us, we just don’t know. Then, there’s the issue of “abduction” – the so-called “Fourth Kind” of alien encounter which was explored in the aforementioned same-titled film in which the person, or persons, being visited are finally “taken” by the alien presence. People that have reported so-called “missing time” in which they cannot remember how something happened or can’t account for a lapse of time in their lives have long been thought to have visited an alien ship and been experimented on. Films such as Fire in the Sky, The Fourth Kind and now Dark Skies explore this possibility and I have to tell you…if these things are true, I don’t want to be abducted any time soon…
Paramount’s release of Fire in the Sky was an eye-opening, much more “realistic” portrayal of alien-esque stories that was frightening on its own – supposedly based on true events that occurred in the Ozarks, a group of foresting workers stumble upon what appears to be a strange light in the sky one evening on their return trip from the work zone. When one, “Travis,” gets out of the truck to further investigate, he is sucked up by a bright beam and disappears, no one ever seeing him again for some time until he pops up in an abandoned gas station incoherent and obviously traumatized. Things get truly creepy when Travis begins to have flashbacks of the horrific experience he endured aboard the alien vessel – and we get a birds-eye view of what these ghoulish gray-colored alien beings did to him up there. It was not pretty, let’s just leave it at that. Many alien stories have come and gone over the years – from War of the Worlds to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind to almost laughable, Star Wars-like takes on the genre like ID4. When The Fourth Kind came out, it was released amidst a hoopla of making these “found footage” films complete with so-called real clips mixed in with staged, acted material; in all honesty, the film didn’t stand a chance because of the era it was released in and after the word got out that Universal created a complete hoax-fest using not real footage alongside the filmed stuff but MORE filmed stuff, the careers of its filmmakers were pretty much over. Still, the film makes me jump in my seat to this day – I own a used copy of it on Blu-ray – even with the “hoaxed” footage, especially the sequence in which “Abigail Emily Tyler” is hypnotizing one of her patients supposedly under the influence of some kind of “alien possession” and suddenly he rises off his bed and levitates while chanting in some unknown, really bizarre language…this scene is still unsettling to me when I watch it.
The Fourth Kind explored more of the “possession” edge of this abduction theory – that the alien intelligences out there actually take hold of the human they’re looking to take and can “speak” through them via ancient languages and strange sounds; the notion is a bit far-fetched when you watch the film over and over, but it sure makes for a creepy, frightening theme if you open your mind to it and wonder “what if…” Dark Skies takes this material and sharpens it up a bit for the real world, grounding the characters in reality and offering a less “extreme” look at this phenomenon – though still shocking and awe-inspiring. Finally, and refreshingly, for the first time in a long time we don’t have the perspective of a hand-held camcorder a la Paranormal Activity to tell this story, nor do we have “promised real footage” of alien abductions that end up to be as real as a rack on Pam Anderson. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play Mr. and Mrs. Barrett, living above their means with their two kids in a house that’s about to be foreclosed on. Lacy (Russell) is a real estate agent not really doing well in the sales department and Daniel (Hamilton) is looking for a new job to get them out of their money troubles. If you think these are enough problems on their own – and they ARE – consider what this family is about to go through and ask yourself if YOU wouldn’t go completely haywire from it…
The dread and sense of forbearing doom is heaped on in thick waves early on in Dark Skies, making for a tightly-paced, incredibly taut feel refreshing in today’s age of filmmaking; as each day passes for the Barretts, very strange phenomenon begins to occur…from objects moving about on their own in the house a la Poltergeist to strange behavior from family members, notably the couple’s youngest son Sam (Kadan Rockett) who claims to talk to a “Sandman” over the walkie talkie with his brother Jesse (Dakota Goyo). Things begin to get really strange – and begin to alert the already frightened couple – when three distinct flocks of birds from three different trajectory directions come crashing into their home, plopping down in piles of blood on the yard out front. This causes Lacy to do some online research, which leads her to discover connections to alien encounters; meanwhile, Sam continues to sleepwalk and seem “frozen” in time and fear each night while Lacy has a bone-chilling encounter of her own one day. During the showing of one certain older house she can’t seem to sell, she goes into a fit of some kind, freezing up in front of the couple she’s showing the house to and then walking robotically over to the sliding glass door that leads to the back yard and smashing her head against it repeatedly. She suddenly then finds herself back on her own bed at home, and we’re lead to believe it was only a dream – until she walks to the mirror and sees the huge gash on her forehead and then receives a call from her boss saying the couple she was out with claimed she had some kind of breakdown. This unexplained “loss of time” is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of troubles for this unfortunate couple.
Slowly, the “influence” begins to spread to Daniel, who up until this point has been a skeptic and still can’t believe anything “supernatural” is taking place in the house – even when pots and pans magically stack themselves in strange configurations in the kitchen and every single family picture is somehow removed from their frames and disappears. Worse, one evening, after announcing the good news to Lacy that he got a new job, Daniel is found by her wandering in the back yard in the middle of the night, finally standing in one place staring off into space, his mouth wide open and eyes riddled with terror. When blood begins to come out of his nose and he just as abruptly walks in the house, we know something is truly wrong here. These sequences definitely add a sense of building dread, and they were handled expertly by the filmmaking team here in my opinion; there is no “monster in the closet” that exposes itself too early or anything like that, and it makes for a satisfying end result.
When all these events get too much to ignore any further – events which go on to include Lacy walking in on one of the kids to see the dark, lumbering, towering, shadowy figure over his bed as well as Daniel’s installation of video cameras to monitor what’s going on in each room but which ends up yielding an eerie static interference from the alien presence – the couple decide to seek help from a so-called alien expert in Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons). They arrive at his apartment and he makes them feel comfortable, sitting down with the couple and hearing their stories he has heard so many times before. Simmons, in another refreshing aspect, plays the role of the alien enthusiast very solidly and commendably in that his performance is direct, linear and almost heartfelt; a far cry from, as I said, his ridiculous and embarrassing role in New in Town. Do I love to HATE him in HBO’s Oz as the evil-hearted skinhead “Schillinger”? Sure. Was he nearly perfect as Peter Parker’s newspaper editor in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man franchise? Yes. He absolutely sucked, though, in films like New in Town but here he truly shines with an understated, genuine performance.
Pollard asks the couples questions about the activity in their house and amongst their family members, eventually getting to elements such as the nosebleeds, loss of body control, migraine headaches…finally, it is exposed that Daniel has received some kind of alien “implant” behind his ear, as the scratches and red marks Pollard sees confirms it…with Pollard showing the couple his marks for implants, as well. It is this point of Dark Skies that makes you begin to truly wonder if this stuff really does exist…if some of us have already been “implanted” with alien devices and if so what they plan on doing with us. Even more chilling is the way in which Pollard explains to the couple everything he knows about our alien visitors…how there are three distinct classes they fall into, the main one being the “Grays,” which end up looking like the stick figure beings so many people claim to see. Once they “claim you,” says Pollard, you’re pretty much theirs and there is nothing you can do about it. What do they want? We don’t know, says Pollard; to experiment on us…to use our fears against us. What makes the people and families they pick to abduct, visit or experiment on so special? Nothing, notes Pollard; the people are random and normally the first to be “marked” by these beings are the first to be abducted eventually to the alien ships. What can be done to stop them from taking a marked family member? Nothing, warns Pollard – except for the fact that the family must remain strong and stay bonded, as this “love power” somehow weakens the Grays’ influence on, especially, the children. This began to dip into Poltergeist II territory for me with the whole “fight them with love!” aspect, but you gotta just go with it. Oh – and Pollard mentions to them that he is now in an apartment in the city because when he lived in the suburbs and owned dogs, the aliens would visit him routinely and drive the dogs bonkers, keeping him up all night…now, he lives with a plethora of cats, who don’t seem to be “bothered” by the aliens.
The couple, heading back home and making a pact to stay strong and not let the alien visitors take their youngest son Sam – who appears to be the one “marked” – discover that it’s actually their older son Jesse that may be the one the aliens are after; remembering Jesse was very sick when he was born, Lacy and Daniel somehow come to the realization that it’s been him that has been watched by the visitors all this time (some kind of connection they make based on something Pollard tells them back in his apartment; the notion is kind of hazy). The final sequence is quasi-satisfying, depicting Daniel buying a shotgun and boarding up their entire house, finally to be confronted by a squad of the skinny alien beings who besiege the house and shine bright lights down from their ship. While Daniel gets off a good few rounds – much to the dismay of an adorable Shepherd the family adopts from the pound and brings home to help protect them from the aliens but who ends up having something happen to him at some point when the beings get into the house because you can hear him yelp, which I DID NOT like being an animal lover – the film concludes its brisk 97 minute running time with a circle of alien beings surrounding Jesse and a light whisking him away with them. Pollard notices the clip of the latest “missing boy” – the Barretts’ son – in the newspaper and adds it to his wall of missing kids and people from these abductions, while the family moves on and into a new place. When little Sam finds the walkie talkie he used to speak to his older brother with lying in a cardboard box from the old house and Lacy picks it up in horror to hear what appears to be Jesse’s voice attempting to communicate through the crackling interference, we have, as I said, a quasi-satisfying yet mysterious conclusion…reminding me very much of the ending of 1408, in which John Cusack’s character hears his daughter’s voice on the burnt tape recorder that supposedly survived the “haunted hotel room” escapade…
I’m not sure if this ending is attempting to leave open a sequel to Dark Skies, but I would prefer if it didn’t; leaving the narrative open-ended like this allows the viewer to decide what he or she thought happened to Jesse Barrett and whether he’s actually still alive on the alien ship – or alien planet – or not. The film stands fine on its own as is, and was a very refreshing change from the muck I’ve been reviewing lately as a whole; in fact, I have placed this on my “maybe to purchase” list.
[img] http://www.cinematoria.com/images/films/dark-skies_2013/screenshots/dark-skies_2013-1-1280x720_scroller.jpg[/img]VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
I’m pleased to report that a well-made film like Dark Skies received an equally impressive video transfer on Blu-ray; Anchor Bay/Starz has given this film a razor-sharp transfer that looks absolutely jaw-dropping in 1080p with rich, eye-popping color, dazzling clarity, dimensional detail and an all-around clean, ridiculously blemish-free appearance. The wide 2.40:1 frame had no negative issues I am able to report; blacks were rock-solid, stable, un-twitchy and noiseless, likewise for the amount of grain and video noise at all – these elements did not exist. Facial skin tones were spot-on with no sense of over saturation or “sunburning” and outdoor sets shined the most fabulously with searing, bright clarity and an almost three-dimensional sense of realism. One of the best Blu-ray transfers I’ve seen of late.
[img]http://images2.static-bluray.com/reviews/8092_3.jpg[/img]AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
Presented with the prerequisite DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, the Region A Blu-ray of Dark Skies was accompanied by a satisfying if not wall-crushing audio track; what the track did right was definitely build that constant sense of dread you feel throughout the film, and when an alien “encounter” was about to take place, the track exhibited low, groaning yet smooth wallops of deep LFE…but not enough to really make your pictures fly off the wall. What I also noticed was a bit of an issue with dialogue – the more I turned my master volume up, the more the vocal intelligibility and “volume” didn’t actually change. I thought this to be strange; as I raised the master volume, the track of course got louder but the center channel dialogue continued to require more goosing.
Still, the Master Audio mix was fully engrossing and engaging when it needed to be, throwing the audio cues of screaming flocks of birds, the howling of the alien implant influences and the creepy creaking of house floorboards and such into the appropriate surrounds.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Skies; to me, this was a nice change in the alien genre especially after the “hoax” we were lead to believe was “true” in The Fourth Kind (though frightening enough). Definitely give this a rental, unless this subject matter completely scares the bejesus out of you (as it does my wife). And, be sure to catch the downright creepy and frightening “soul possession” sequence involving the “Jesse” character in the film towards the end, when he and a dopey, stupid friend go into the wilderness to play with a paintball gun and Jesse is suddenly whisked under an alien presence influence that causes his mouth to gape open and eyes to roll into the back of his head…very creepy, my friends…
If you saw this, please tell me what you thought – and look for my next review coming soon, Identity Thief!