Falling Skies review

by Sarah Barnett / 14 January, 2012
The skitters have landed! So, what can 300 humans do to save the world?

Here’s a free movie or TV series idea: the alien invasion, as seen from New Zealand. They never come here – presumably because we don’t have any internationally recognisable landmarks for motherships to hover over – so what are we doing when they take Manhattan?

Will we take refugees? Send aid? Get the Skyhawks out of mothballs in case we feel like giving the invaders a giggle? Is the Prime Minister relaxed about the demise of every other world currency?

In the Steven Spielberg executive-produced Falling Skies, we join our band of invasion survivors six months after the aliens first landed: an opening montage of children’s pictures is narrated by those kids and quickly explains that the authorities decided not to nuke the aliens in case they were friendly – and for their good manners, the humans have been close to ground out.

The armies are gone, as is 90% of the population. What the “skitters” want is anyone’s guess, although they take adolescent kids and “harness” them with some sort of mind-control device fused to their spine, which seems to turn them into a docile slave-labour force.

Former US history professor Tom Mason, played by ER’s Noah Wyle, was widowed in the first attack, and is now second in command of a group of 300 survivors, thanks to the books he has written about military history (and you thought the uprising would be led by physical types). His eldest and youngest sons have survived, but his middle boy has been harnessed – adding a personal crusade to save the boy to his more general mission to save the world.

TV2 has scheduled this to run before The Walking Dead, giving the middle of the week a bleak pick-your-post-apocalyptic-poison vibe: aliens, zombies, or two more days of work before the weekend? As Tom and his future love interest, paediatrician Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), discuss, aliens might not be so bad. If humans weren’t running for their lives, he’d be grading mid-terms and she’d be dealing with “flu shots and neurotic mothers”.

But where The Walking Dead is chilling, Falling Skies hasn’t yet quite captured the real horror of an invasion in the way that Spielberg’s War of the Worlds did. Blame a smaller budget, or perhaps simply a decision to make it slightly more family-friendly fare, but these survivors seem to be coping with being the 10% with more equanimity than an Occupy Aotea Square protester.

Still, once you’re used to Wyle out of scrubs, it zips along nicely, with a good ratio of alien fights to trouble in the ranks. Of course, being a Spielberg production, family drama is paramount: the professor has to make sure his youngest gets a birthday party in among armoury raids and being taken hostage by outlaws – not to mention boring everyone with his professional interest in Trojan horses and sappers, which will presumably come in handy down the track.

He is relentlessly optimistic, as he keeps reminding everyone that history is littered with stories of inferior armies beating the big guys with guile and pluck. He likens their situation to that of the colonials in the American War of Independence, although as the leader of the outlaws, John Pope, points out, they’re really more like the Native Americans. History is written, as Mason should know, having done so, by the team with the greater firepower and better diseases.

Pope (Colin Cunningham) looks set to be a combination of comic relief and the voice of sanity – if the sane response to unbeatable aliens is to accept the inevitable and have fun while it lasts. He takes his capture by Mason good-humouredly: “Being a leader of a post-apocalyptic gang of outlaws has been exhausting.”

The series feels as if it’s in good hands; there will be no endless mysteries, bizarre plot twists or trickery just for the sake of it. Falling Skies will answer your questions and keep things moving at a clip; surely the skitters’ demands will be evident before long.

Wouldn’t it be fun, though, if a desperate band of people decided to strike out, On the Beach-style, for New Zealand, and discover that we’d finally fulfilled our destiny of actually becoming Hobbiton? An agrarian paradise in the midst of strife, only mildly aware of the agonies suffered in countries with ­expensive monuments.

FALLING SKIES, TV2, Wednesday, 8.30pm.
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