james debate
james debate

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Created by Robert Rodat, Steven Spielberg
Starring Noah Wyle, Moon BloodgoodBroadcast date July 5th 2011 (UK)
Running time 45 minutes

falling skies pilot review

When Steven Spielberg attaches his name to a project it's unwise to take it lightly. Over the decades his name has become synonymous with quality, and this extends from his Hollywood milieu into the small screen of television and lately even the video game world.

This latest TV show, Falling Skies is the flagship show for TNT’s new original television programming push, and you can tell they’ve really pulled out all the stops for this one. First we have the involvement of Spielberg, supported by impressive financial backing for a television show, and viral marketing as far as the eye can see, including a 104 page prequel comic set to be released this month.

Co-conceived with Robert Rodat (who you may remember as the screenwriter of Spielberg's film Saving Private Ryan), Falling Skies attempts to broach a new perspective on the classic alien invasion story, this time with a Red Dawn style resistance angle. Whereas we might be accustomed to seeing alien invasion stories focus on the spectacle of the arrival and invasion itself, Falling Skies begins several months after the invasion has taken place, and we have already lost the war. We follow the actions of a desperate group of resistance fighters, struggling to survive in the now alien occupied world. The result is in equal measure part classic war movie, part wasteland survival adventure, and part human drama, with the latter focusing on the innate tensions that arise from disparate personalities and priorities forced to cope under duress and in close quarters.

It’s a smart move for a television show, simultaneously presenting us with a fresh side of a common genre story and avoiding the need for the kind of Independence Day grandiosity that would be impossible to pull off convincingly on a television budget.

For the most part, I found the two hour premiere to be a success. The action looks good and the pacing makes for a compelling narrative. The writers make clear from the start the political thematic context they’re going for, with parallels drawn early on between this conflict and the insurgency movements in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly the concept that “we don’t need to kill them all, we just need to kill enough”, the show is heavily based around the idea that a determined group of fighters can indeed be a thorn in the side of an advanced occupying army.

But this show is not simply a clumsy political analogy, and indeed there is plenty of material for the writers to work with here, from the rich background mythology that has been set up to the classic human drama which so far appears to be fairly well written. Of course what a show like this really lives and breathes on is a line up of strong characters, and while it’s very early days yet it’s clear that a lot of attention has wisely been given to this aspect of the production, a job made easier by the talented cast, led by familiar face Noah Wyle. However this premiere mostly focused on Wyle’s character, his kids and then just one or two other central characters, and it remains to be seen whether the focus will remain so narrow, or if we will see others being fleshed out in the coming weeks.

On the downside, the slightly cheesy looking aliens and Mars Attacks-like mechanical walkers are a little disappointing, especially when you consider that Spielberg has, in the past, given us some of the most iconic portrayals of aliens in film history. You do get used to it to an extent, particularly when you get up close it doesn’t look so bad, but it is still a pity that they couldn’t have put more effort into creating a more intriguing foe that doesn’t just look like some random “monster of the week” from the Outer Limits.

It’s early days yet, but so far I’m pretty pleased with this show, and I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that it’s the best looking new TV show this year, and indeed of the past few years. If the writers can help this show reach its potential and avoid the pitfalls that such genre shows often fall into, then this could be a hit in the making.

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