Sci-Fi Storm

A first look at Falling Skies

by on May.02, 2011, under Television

As I mentioned several days ago, I received an interesting package. This was the preview press kit for the upcoming TNT series Falling Skies, from DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg, and stars Noah Wyle (ER, The Librarian).

I don’t want to give too much away (and TNT doesn’t want me to either), but the series is set in Massachusetts six months after an alien invasion in which about 80% of the population has been wiped out, and children are captured and given a “harness” – an alien bio-device that attaches to their spine and essentially gives the aliens a mindless menial task force – for reasons unknown.

The story follows a group of resistance fighters, the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment sent west of Boston with a group of civilians to look for food while also regrouping to renew their attack on the aliens, which they call “skitters” – six-legged creatures appearing like a cross between insects and lizards, and can’t be killed by gunfire except at extreme close range. They also have bipedal mech suits with weaponry and fighter craft, and are building extremely large structures over the major cities for a mysterious reason.

The 2nd Mass is headed by Colonel Weaver (Will Patton, Remember The Titans, Armageddon), a no nonsense soldier, hiding his personal loss and seeing the civilians as a detriment to his work. Second in command is Tom Mason (Wyle), a former professor of history at Boston University, specializing in the American Revolution. His oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy, Blink), suddenly forced to grow up, is also a member of the 2nd Mass, and both search for Tom’s second son, Ben (Connor Jessup, The Saddle Club), who was taken by the aliens and has a harness. Tom’s youngest son, (Maxim Knight, Slaughter), naturally wants to help in the resistance but also has to deal with the fact that his childhood is radically different than either of his brothers’, lacking in just the basic fun of an 8 year old. Despite the goal of finding his son, Tom doesn’t lose site of the ultimate mission either – resist, gain intelligence, and defeat the aliens.

The 2nd Mass must deal with a number of problems – finding food and resources, weapons and ammunition – but also the problems of military versus civilian control and trust and division of resources. Definite parallels with Battlestar Galactica in that regard, but the story seems

When the kit came with a “cheat sheet” booklet for the characters and terms, I was afraid that there would be too much to absorb – lots of characters, stuff you need to know before you can get into the show, etc. I had flashbacks to reading Dune and needing the glossary at the back. But it wasn’t really necessary – it was just a device to help out in the preview and get a little insight into the characters.

I think the production so far is great. Noah Wyle’s character reminds me a lot of his character on ER, Dr. John Carter, after he had matured – more rough and rounded and weary. It doesn’t rely too much on special effects (revolving more around the humans), and keeps a fairly leisurely pace, albeit with some shoot-em-up scenes and it opens with a fairly long one – if you are looking for a action based thriller, I think you might be disappointed. This looks to be a story and character-driven show, but I’m finding it more interesting than other shows like The Event.

Rather than blowing the budget on showing the actual invasion and starting out like oh-so-many “aliens come to earth in giant spaceships” movies, the exposition is done in the first few minutes in an interesting and compelling way. I don’t want to spoil it though. They may have even altered the exposition from earlier trailers.

The mech design is OK, but the sound effects that go with it seem to me to be a bit off – the timing of the step noises, and the overall sound – I’m not sure it should sound like a giant metal press no matter the surface.

One character that I’m not sure about yet is John Pope, played by Colin Cunningham (Maj. Paul Davis on Stargate SG-1 and many genre guest appearances). Not that I think there is anything wrong with the character or the portrayal, but my first impression was Sawyer from Lost. I hope the character develops independently from that initial assessment, and I do see some potential for the character, adding humor for a situation that desperately needs it.

So far it also appears to be mostly location shooting as well, as opposed to built or virtual sets. Although set in Massachusetts, it is filmed in Toronto, but I think they’ve found quite a good match architecturally. They do avoid showing anything location specific like street signs, but buildings and even guard rails along the road look appropriate.

I can’t help but nitpick a bit about the geography, considering I live in the area and I’m familiar with every place they are talking about. They’ve mostly got things right – going up the coast to Marblehead, or west to Acton and Littleton along the commuter rail line, but one regiment was dispatched to follow “Route 3” northwest to stop in Revere. Revere is north of what is called East Boston, and is northeast of the bulk of Boston – and Route 3 goes no where near Revere. In fact the first regiment heading to Marblehead along the coast would go through Revere (perhaps they are hoping that Kelly’s Roast Beef is still open 🙂 ). A better choice perhaps may have been to say Burlington or even Lowell.

Of course, some of the locations are fictionalized for the story, and the geography isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the area (from the top of a high hill overlooking a large wooded area, Mason says, “I’ve never been to Acton,” but Acton isn’t that hilly. I only nitpick because I actually live in the area and know it well. Some of the areas they are in could actually pass for actual locations along the route they are taking.

I’ve got a lot of hopes for this. I think the characters and story were compelling early on and didn’t take all three hours to start developing. I’m looking forward to when the show airs.

Falling Skies will debut on TNT starting on Sunday, June 19th, at 9PM ET/PT, and then air regularly at 10PM ET/PT on Sundays.


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