Sunday, April 3, 2011

Watch for Falling Skies this summer

The first media panel of WonderCon this year, and the first panel I attended, was for the new TNT show Falling Skies. As I outlined in the Friday roundup post, this is a new show produced by Dreamworks and written by Mark Verheiden (of Heroes, also co-executive producer) and Melinda Hsu (of Lost), and co-executive produced and directed by Greg Beeman (also of Heroes).

Unlike most "alien invasion" concepts, this one starts six months after the world-changing event, which occurs in the present day around the world. "The shock has gone away," said Verheiden. "Now they can focus on how to survive. It has a different tone than 'oh my god, they're attacking.'"

The aliens have set off an electromagnetic pulse, which has destroyed or made useless anything involving electricity. They're also kidnapping teens for slave labor, keeping them in line with zombie-like actions via some kind of creature that attaches to the back of the neck and extends down the spine. The spooky thing is that nobody knows why they're being taken and used in this way. In one scene we saw, they were simply piling up scrap metal, piece-by-piece, like robots. Why do the aliens want this scrap metal in a pile? Why are they even on earth at all? The interesting thing about Falling Skies is that because the humans involved don't know the answers, neither does the audience, helping you feel like you're right there in the trenches with the resistance.

The overall creepiness of the show is definitely pegging the red from the footage we saw. One fellow reporter was so creeped out by the six-legged "skitter" creatures that she doesn't think she'll be able to watch it. She described it as "Dark Angel meets Terminator." Add something like Aliens or The Thing into the mix, and it's pretty close. Falling Skies is extremely dark and gritty, as the entire story focuses around hiding from the aliens, fighting the aliens, rescuing people from the aliens, and trying to find supplies while the six-legged "skitters" or huge robotic "mechs" lurk around every corner ready to kill any humans without a second thought. Except the teens, that is. Those are needed for... something.

I was concerned about the constant barrage of darkness, violence, and even hopelessness, especially as the trailer starts off with drawings children have made of witnessing their friends and family being killed by the invaders. The children seem to be losing hope that they will even see their parents from one day to the next, as all able-bodied adults are part of the resistance. I talked to Hsu about this, and she said there would definitely be quieter moments and never a complete loss of hope. One of the clips we saw showed a daytime shot of a small group of humans setting up a campsite in the overgrown back yard of an empty house. Two of the characters go up to a girl's bedroom overlooking the yard, which gives a bittersweet sense of loss. The room is normal, rather than ravaged, and the characters muse briefly on who the girl might have been as they sit down on her bed and talk. We ache for this girl and wonder if she's been taken captive, or killed, or is still on the run somewhere, and we hope that she makes it back to her award ribbons and toy horse collection.

"Keep your eye on the skitters," Verheiden said with a little sly smile. "You think they're one thing at first, and then maybe they're something else."

Like the skitters, this modern-day battle for freedom and independence is complex and not entirely what it seems. Even among the surviving humans there's conflict. The soldiers may have been destroyed in the first wave of the invasion, but now a citizen's militia has taken a firm hold, with two factions taking hold -- the military, whose sole purpose is to fight off the aliens, and the civilians who just want to give their kids a better life like the one they had before the aliens came.

The guns are real, the props are real and the issues are real. What if this happened to you? What would you do? Is it worth your life to try and grab that can of food in the street? What would your role in this fight be?

Falling Skies was originally titled Concord, after the battle of Lexington in America's own war of independence. The common person is thrust into a role of combat, and we empathize with their struggle and examine what choices we would make throughout. This is definitely one show people will be talking about this summer and beyond. Premieres June 19 on TNT.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of our panel and interesting assessment of the show! I should emphasize that even though the set-up is intense and there is considerable alien action, Falling Skies is also about hope, love and the triumph of the human spirit. Maybe even a smile or two!

    Mark Verheiden