I'm always a fan of filmmakers that try to reinvent a genre. Alien invasion movies tend to be big, explosion-filled affairs with the hysterical citizens of Earth running and screaming from death rays and reptilian overlords. They're usually these huge, big-budget action pieces that do little more than show off what exactly you can buy with $100 million budget. Few succeed, most seem bloated, loud, and perfunctory.
'Skyline ' was atrocious, as I wrote in an earlier review. However, it did try something that hadn't really been tried before with an action-packed alien invasion movie. Instead of focusing on a country, or the world, 'Skyline' focused on a small group of people trapped in a luxury apartment building. It was a worthy effort, but too bad it was directed by the special effects duo, the Strause brothers. They turned an interesting premise into something akin to watching 'Independence Day' in ultra-slow motion. And if you can believe it their characters were far more wooden than any character Roland Emmerich ever created. Yeah, I know. Shocking. Needless to say, it was easy to not care one iota about the people in 'Skyline.'
Now we have the British alien invasion film entitled 'Attack the Block.' This is what 'Skyline,' could have, and should have been (if it weren't directed by the inept duo mentioned above). Directed and written by Joe Cornish, who plays Bob in 'Hot Fuzz,' 'Attack the Block' tells the story of a localized alien invasion that seems to just take place in a secluded council housing complex in downtown London.
We soon realize we're not in for a normal alien invasion film. We're greeted by a group of London hoodlums, all seemingly under the age of 15, robbing a nice young lady on the street. Anyone who's ever had contact with these groups of kids that wander the streets of England like mischievous zombies hell-bent on destroying everything while wearing track suits, will know that Cornish has gotten their depiction perfectly. Having spent two years in England I ran into my fair share of teenager groups wandering the streets looking for trouble. And I can tell you that this group of kids here is spot-on.
Moses (John Boyega) is the group's leader. The younger kids look up to him. He runs the block in their eyes. There are people above Moses, however, like the resident drug dealer Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). Still Moses runs his own crew of six or seven miscreants, and like all alpha males must demonstrate his dominance every chance he gets. So, when what seems to be an asteroid crashes through the roof of a nearby car Moses is the first one to inspect it. A weird creature jumps out, he chases after it and kills it. Is it a hairless dog? Weird monkey? Or an alien? The kids don't know, but they know that it's got to be worth some money.
Then meteors start landing all around their building. The invasion has begun. What follows is an extremely funny, action-packed alien movie with colorful characters, witty banter, and so much London-based slang that you'll find yourself needing the subtitles on just to catch everything that's being said.
Something must be said about the aliens that descend on the complex. In my mind this is some of the best alien design, since, well… 'Alien.' The genius in the design of these aliens, is that even when they're in full view they're still mysterious. See, they're huge black blobs of jet-black hair. So black that even when they're up close they still look like massive hairy black holes in the screen. The only other defining characteristic about them is their blue, neon-glowing teeth, which just add to the fun.
I enjoyed 'Attack the Block' immensely. It takes the alien invasion genre and dials it down a bit. The whole world isn't in peril, just a few trouble-making kids from the wrong side of town. At first they seem to be reprehensible youngsters, but as the movie continues it's hard not to root for them. Like the group of profane kids in 'Goonies' it's simply hard not to love these kids by the end. Give me 'Attack the Block' over any big-budget alien invasion film any day of the week. There's much more fun to be had here.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Sony Blu-ray release, comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with one BD-50 Blu-ray Disc. The back of the case indicates that it is a Region A release only.
This isn't the most stunning release Sony has put out, but the 1080p picture for 'Attack the Block' certainly isn't a slouch. The picture, for the most part, looks like a very capable release. Clarity isn't the best, but edges seem well-defined. Up-close shots of characters harbor quite a bit of softness here and there. Colors are dull, but nighttime in the council estates of England are usually full of dull colors. Brickwork is nicely delineated and doesn't feature any aliasing that I caught anyway.
Blacks are nice and deep, which is imperative since the creatures are giant black blobs of poky hair. If it weren't deep or inky enough they'd simply be less-menacing grayish blobs. The neon teeth of the creatures adds a striking bit of color to the whole scheme and whenever the creatures growl or bear their teeth the entire screen lights up with crystal clear blue neon.
Minor banding crops up every now and then, mostly during fade-ins and -outs. The banding is noticeable but isn't really all that distracting when it comes right down to it. It's really light, and may slip by your view anyway. Other technical hiccups or defects are nowhere to be seen. While it isn't the picture-perfect demo quality transfer that Sony has a habit of putting out, it is a true-to-form picture that accurately represents the dour, colorless surroundings of England's council estates.
The audio is a much better prospect though. Sony's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mix is a rocking good time. Bass is constant and heavy during the hip-hop infused soundtrack along with the numerous intense action scenes involving lumbering aliens crashing through walls.
Dialog is feature front and center, and even though the fast spoken slang of the street kids is hard to understand, you'll hear every word (I just can't promise you'll comprehend anything they're talking about). Whenever the aliens open their mouths a weird, futuristic clacking permeates the soundfield. As they grow in number the sounds soon fill the rears offering and expansive surround sound experience.
Directionality is overworked to say the least. So many kids talking so fast, simultaneously, it's a wonder how they placed each voice exactly where it should be on the screen. The audio really draws you into the movie and doesn't let you go until the end.
There are three audio commentaries included on this release, and they're all worth listening to.
First off you have what's called the "Junior Commentary," which features Cornish along with kid actors John Boyega (Moses), Alex Esmail (Pest), Franz Drameh (Dennis), Simon Howard (Biggz), and Leeon Jones (Jerome). Cornish does a good job steering the commentary, keeping it on point. It's light-hearted, full of anecdotes about the filming, and being on set.
The second commentary is called "Senior Commentary," which features another appearance from Cornish along with the older actors in the movie Jodie Whittaker (Sam), Luke Treadaway (Brewis), and Nick Frost (Ron). As always Frost has a few great lines. Even though he has minimal screen time, he may be the reason to check out this commentary. It's great to have the different views though. Most of the kids are relatively new actors, while these three have lengthier filmographies. It's kind of cool to get both points of view about what it's like working on movies.
The third and final commentary is the "Executive Producer Commentary," which features Cornish, and famed director, who is credited as a producer here, Edgar Wright. Even though Wright wasn't in the director's chair, his finger prints are all over the look and feel of this movie. Cornish and Wright talk about working together and the more technical aspects of filming the movie.
'Attack the Block' is a treat because you're really not sure what to expect from it, until you're about halfway through and you realize that this low-budget movie is one of the best alien invasion movies out there. It may be set on a small scale, but it's got a big heart. With people like Wright pulling the strings behind the camera, it's easy to see where the movie gets its signature frantic action-packed feel. It's a hysterically thrilling action movie. With good video, great audio, and an extensive special features package 'Attack the Block' is recommended for any movie lover looking for a good time.