DVD Review: Falling Skies - The Complete First Season / Cert: 15 / Director: Various / Teleplay: Various / Starring: Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy, Maxim Knight, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham / Release Date: July 2nd
What a difference a boxset makes. TNT’s ten-part post-alien invasion series Falling Skies made its debut last year and I was distinctly underwhelmed. Viewed episodically on TV Falling Skies was a slow, meandering, overly sentimental and slightly mawkish effort (almost inevitable with Steven Spielberg on executive producer duties) riddled with illogicalities, plot holes and just plain baffling head-scratching moments of idiocy. Fast-forward nearly twelve months as the show turns up on DVD and, viewed again, this time in one big blitz of episodes, Falling Skies is actually a lot better and a lot more satisfying than it was as a weekly viewing experiences; it’s not the way nature (or TNT) might have intended, and it leads us to hope that the show’s upcoming second season has been retooled a bit to make it more compulsive week by week, but it’s always refreshing to revisit a show which hasn’t quite hit the mark only to find out that, viewed from a different perspective, it’s a damned sight better than you ever thought it was.
Months after an alien attack has incapacitated the world and left over 80% of it population dead, American survivors are banding together to form ragged military resistance movements and are planning a war of attrition against the aliens - scuttling arachnid creatures dubbed ‘skitters’ and their mechanical battle-tanks called Mechs - in attempt to force them off the planet. Falling Skies focuses on one particular group, the 2nd Mass, gathered together just outside the ruins of Boston, above which towers a huge alien spaceship-cum-platform. The 2nd Mass, an uneasy combination of soldiers and civilians, is commanded by the gruff Captain Weaver (Patton) and his second-in-command is former teacher Tom Mason (Wyle), whose family form the thrust of the series’ ongoing narrative. One of Tom’s sons has been taken prisoner by the aliens and, along with thousands of other youngsters, has been ‘harnessed’ and turned into a drone-like slave by the attachment of a glowing parasitic creature to his back. When Tom’s older son Hal sees the captured Ben under the control of the aliens, Tom becomes determined to rescue him whilst simultaneously dealing with the simple business of staying alive, staying undetected and protecting his youngest son Matt as well as gently fostering his smoldering get-on-with-it relationship with the group’s medic Dr Glass (Bloodgood).
This is a heavily Spielberg-influenced scenario so obviously the show’s liberally coated in a layer of lovey-dovey family values schmaltziness. Tom is forever hugging his sons, there are constant little morality tales about the importance of family and relationships and virtually every episode has its piano-music moment of pathos as one character or another gazes wistfully into the distance or a weepy tribute is paid to someone who’s fallen in battle. Normally all this is extremely irritating, especially in a sci-fi show when we all want to see 'Things Blow Up', but oddly enough it seems to work rather well in Falling Skies. Tom’s the star of the show and he generally drives its narrative but Falling Skies manages to balance its all-American sensibilities with some good, dynamic action sequences, a real sense of a post-invasion Earth in the muddy, grubby, debris-strewn locations and some terrific, sparingly-used special effects. For once the aliens are really alien, utterly incapable of communicating with the humans they’ve routed (unless it’s via one of their harnessed slaves) and the spider-like aliens themselves are suitably grotesque and surprisingly creepy. The Mechs too, stamping about the shattered streets uttering their war cry and wielding their death-rays, are a formidable presence, even though it’s hard not to be constantly reminded of HG Wells’ Martian Tripods. Throw in a few ongoing storylines - episode two introduces Pope (Cunningham), sneery, swaggering ex-con and leader of another group of survivors who’s forced to throw in his lot with the 2nd Mass, the capture of a ‘skitter’ and the group’s attempts to communicate with it, the freeing of the captured kids from the alien harnesses and the effect it might have on them long-term and the slow disintegration of the group’s no-nonsense leader Weaver - and you’ve got a show which really isn’t as cosy as its family set-up seems to suggest.
Niggling inconsistencies remain; it’s hard to imagine that an alien race which has crossed space and conquered another civilisation really can’t spot a few hundred humans who spend a lot of their time in plain sight right under their noses and the Mechs could do a lot more damage when they encounter the refugees if they actually shot at them now and again instead of just standing there howling. But with its cliffhanger ending, unresolved plotlines and the promise of a more nomadic, edgier second series, Falling Skies consumed on DVD has entirely subverted my initial opinion of it. This is sharp, well-written, handsomely-mounted sci-fi telly of the highest order and if, like me, you watched it last year and got bored and/or restless, you could do worse than to give it another spin on DVD where it really finds its feet and proves its worth.
Extras: Five commentaries, Comic Con Panel footage, test FX footage, season two preview.