This Steven Spielberg-backed project has been eagerly awaited as one of those television “events”, but you always wondered how they were going to make the oft-trod ground of “Earth under alien invasion” feel exciting and fresh again after so many predecessors.
Short answer: it doesn’t.
Long answer: it really doesn’t. It’s astonishing how dated this production feels. It would have been ground-breaking in the 1980s, good for the 1990s, passable for the 2000s, but for 2011 it’s like a historical relic that’s suddenly been unearthed. The whole thing, from premise to plot structure to the actual writing made me think of mini-series like The Winds of War: just look at how laboured the establishing of Noah Wyle’s history professor character is done, or the obvious and unconvincing military captain played by the usually excellent Will Patton, or the by-the-numbers briefing they get from Dale Dye which not only creaks with exposition but also sets up the obvious points of conflict for the episodes to come.
It’s particularly disappointing given that science fiction as a genre on television has moved on so much since those days. The depth, subtlety and complexity of Battlestar Galactica for example has moved the goal posts many times over, while The Walking Dead and True Blood have massively changed our expectations of the innovative sort of directorial and narrative style we expect from modern television series.
This seems to have slept through all of that and be as crushingly conventional as it’s possible to be. And dull – did I mention dull? The first hour should be a showcase slam-dunk powerhouse of an introduction, in the way that the first episode of The Walking Dead left you reeling and struggling for breath. This left me struggling not to yawn; even the flop BBC genre revival Survivors had far better pacing than this slow-motion effort, and when you’re comparing a US show and a UK one on pacing and the latter is coming out on top, something is really wrong. (And it makes me think that the BBC’s recent Outcasts series really deserved a better break in hindsight if this is the best Spielberg is doing these days.)
It also didn’t occur to me that this had had the money spent on it that’s been reported; there’s an early battle scene where a road set is liberally dressed with wrecked vehicles, and a few snatches of CGI monsters, but nothing you wouldn’t expect to see in SciFi Channel’s latest low-budget rip-off movie of the week.
It may well improve; it’s even possible I may still be watching if and when it does. But frankly, on both matters, I’m rather doubtful.
** out of five stars.