There's a giant banner for Skyline on the side of one of the hotels adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center, but the movie it's advertising is so under the radar and small that virtually no one in Hall H knew what we were going to see when they premiered the footage here today. The film comes from brother directors Colin and Greg Strause, known for making Alien vs. Predator: Requiem but also having a hand in the visual effects of everything from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Avatar. Their visual effects background helps explain the flashy look of this independent film about an alien invasion, but it might also explain why the movie itself looks a little, well, familiar. It's Cloverfield in that it's about a bunch of young kids running away from an attacking monster. It's Battle: Los Angeles in that it's about aliens invading that city. It's District 9 in that it's a low-budget movie that uses an existing city to create an alien-tinged world. Etc. etc.

But you know, you can't always re-invent the alien invasion wheel, and the effects of Skyline are polished and imaginative enough-- the alien ships kind of swim through the air with octopus-like tentacles-- that it may have something new to add after all. The cast, including Scrubs star Donald Faison and "you know him from everywhere" Eric Balfour, took the stage along with their directors and seemed simply delighted that their shoestring-budget indie alien movie had even made it to Hall H. Universal has picked up the film for distribution at some undetermined point in the future, and some proper marketing could push this as the Paranormal Activity of sci-fi films. But then, Cloverfield kind of already covered that territory. And so did District 9.

A fan actually stepped up to the mic and asked how Skyline differs from those other alien monster movies, and Colin Strause chimed in to basically say that their aliens destroy things in a different way than you've seen before:

"The premise of the movie is about mass abduction, and it's on a completely global scale. They don't shoot bullets, not laser beams. The way they prey on us is such a simplistic thing.

And another audience question allowed Colin Strause to talk about what looks like the main selling point of the film: the genuinely cool design of the aliens. He actually started with a crack about the murky look of AvP-- "First of all we wanted to make sure everyone could see them this time around"-- but then went on to give some details about how they built them:

Colin: One of the important things, even all the giant ships, it's all organic, crystalline structures. We wanted it to be something very unique, something we haven't seen on that scale before.
Greg: We wanted Transformers-size aliens. We played around with an 8-foot alien [in Alien vs. Predator: Requiem], let's go with a 55 foot tall one this time.

I liked the enthusiasm that everyone on the panel had for the film, and it's always kind of fun to see an independent project make its way to the cavernous Hall H (Super was another Hall H indie today). But something about the overly familiar story and the low-rent cast (sorry, Donald Faison) kept Skyline from feeling quite big enough to fill the space, much les the giant banner advertising it outside.

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