Falling Skies is a new HBO series exec produced by the one and only Steven Spielberg. It's being described as The Walking Dead with aliens, although personally as a huge fan of The Walking Dead there's no comparison between these two shows, TWD is a far superior series in terms of it's writing and direction, Falling Skies has the feel of a TV movie from the 90's about it, but that's not to say it's terrible though. The show was created by Robert Rodat, who penned Saving Private Ryan, and is based on an original concept by Spielberg, I know.. Spielberg.. aliens.. who would've thought!?
In a nutshell, Falling Skies opens 6 months into a world ravaged by an alien invasion, a prologue that is cleverly bypassed with a series of children's sketches accompanied by voice overs of the children who detail the invasion with as much accuracy as a crayon doodle can communicate, obviously the budget didn't allow for this spectacular intro. However the story utilises this technique as a swift method of explaining how the aliens landed, wiped out all the major cities along with all the armed forces, navy seals, coast guard etc leaving ordinary folk to fend for themselves (which does make for a rather depressing series of paintings on the fridge) And this obviously explains why no one is really fighting back, all the soldiers and weaponry have been destroyed and so we're left with a plucky bunch of average joes who are forced to survive against insurmountable odds.
So that's the set up, let's meet our protagonists! First up is the heroically name Tom Mason, played by Christian Bale look-a-like Noah Wyle. Before the invasion he was a college professor specialising in History, which doesn't particularly have much use in the real world of combat other than boosting the morale of everyone by reeling off dozens of famous historical battles in which the underdog comes out on top! For all his history lectures though Mason is without a doubt the hero of the show, brave, caring and a natural born leader.
Oh, I should also mention, there are loads of surviving groups around the country, our focus is on the Boston 2nd Massachusetts (a reference to the Continental Army from the Revolution). Leading the '2nd Mass' as they quickly become abbreviated to, is the surly, tough as nails Captain Weaver played by the fantastic Will Patton. Mason is assigned as Weavers second in command which causes plenty of friction as the two butt heads on pretty much everything. Both men represent two different sides to the war, Weaver the ex military man is focused on revenge and fighting back, while Mason represents the civilians in their charge, ultimately they are both men of their convictions and despite their differences they learn to get on, especially as they are also both very vulnerable men with weaknesses as we learn in future episodes. Mason is a single parent, his ex wife was killed in the invasion, has the difficult task of looking after 3 sons, Matty the youngest, Hal a teenager who has been forced to grow up and fight alongside his dad and Ben, who we soon learn has been kidnapped by the aliens.
And where would any American TV show be without the unrealistically hot women! There's Mason's love interest, Anne Glass the resident doctor, although formerly a paediatrician, played by the wonderfully monikered, Moon Bloodgood. Hal also has a girlfriend, Karen, but typical of all teen romances she is snatched away by aliens, although to be honest Hal doesnt seem overly destraught, they fight tooth and nail to get Ben back but as soon as the girlfriend gets taken.. well, they dont exactly all rush at once to rescue her. There's a whole of host of other peripheral characters as well, the attractive young medical student who has a crush on Hal, the obligatory sweet old man who spends his time tinkering with old transistors and radio equipment and many more.
Part of my frustration with the show is the script, I can understand for dramatic purposes that characters will naturally grate on one another, there needs to be some personality clashes to create drama and tension but ultimately in a world that's been taken over by aliens, why no one can seem to just get on and work together is beyond me, they did it in Independence Day for godsake!? You didn't see anyone bickering in that film. Yet in Falling Skies, in one episode for example they encounter a bunch of 'outlaws' led by the charismatic and enigmatic Pope, who insist on nicking all their food and guns and for what purpose? Can't you all you just learn to fight alongside one another? So there's a lot of back and forth, no one character can say something without another completely debasing it and that starts to get irritating quite quickly.
So to the aliens, first off we have what the humans have dubbed 'Skitters' a six legged creature that... well skitters around, up walls and on ceilings. The skitters kidnap children and 'harness' them by attaching some kind of organism/leash onto the children and use them as slave labour.
Mason's son Ben, we learn has been harnessed by the Skitters. As well as the Skitters we have what the humans have also rather creatively dubbed 'Mechs' presumably short for mechanical or something as the Mechs are hulking great bi-pedal machines with giant guns attached to them, albeit with a somewhat conveniently slow laser targeting system that gives them plenty of time to dodge while their gun buffers!
Sadly the CG isn't really up to scratch, I appreciate the fact as a long running series, CGI is a huge undertaking but it really lets the story down when these humans who have been robbed of their lives, you genuinely invest in their emotional struggle and their willingness to survive.. yet it all seems rather silly when pitted against these badly rendered computer game baddies.
I have to admit though that after a few episodes, I was really drawn into the world of Falling Skies. With every new show it takes a little while to figure it out, but in the case of Falling Skies each episode really improves on the last and builds up to a finale where even Im desperate to find out what happens in the next series. Its not the most original premise for a TV show, we've seen it before in countless movies and in varied forms of other TV shows but usually from the perspective of the military and the president etc. Falling Skies has a real humanistic quality, real people in a recognisable world fighting off something truly unimaginable.