ImageLast year, Steven Spielberg’s (“Saving Private Ryan”, “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial”) “Falling Skies” introduced us to the world in six months- if an alien invasion had happened today.  With 90% of humanity wiped out, we join the 2d Massachusetts Militia Regiment under the command of Captain Dan Weaver, played by Will Patton (“The Postman”, “The Agency”).  His second-in-command is Tom Mason, a professor of American History portrayed by Noah Wyle (“ER”, “Pirates of Silicon Valley”).  They lead a group of 300 strong survivors as they retreat, regroup, and eventually retaliate against the alien invaders.

Three of Tom’s son survived the invasion: The eldest Hal, played by Drew Roy (“iCarly”, “Hannah Montana”), and the youngest, Matt, played by Maxim Knight (“Special Agent Oso”, “Three Rivers”), both escaped with their father.  The middle son, Ben, played by Connor Jessup (“The Saddle Club”, “King”), was captured and harnessed by the Skitters.  ImageThe young actors turn in consistently competent performances, a pleasant change from many young actors in demanding roles.  Their characters fill important roles throughout the season, while additionally providing Tom his primary motivation. 

Rounding out the 2d Mass we have Anne Glass and John Pope, portrayed by Moon Bloodgood (“Pathfinder”, “Terminator Salvation”) and Colin Cunningham (“Stargate SG-1”, “jPod”), respectively.  Anne Glass is the unit’s medic, a pediatrician before the invasion, who advocates for the civilians to boot.  She and Tom have a close friendship which took a romantic turn in the finale.  Pope is a fan-favorite who serves as the cook for the 2d Mass, having been pressed into service once his post-apocalyptic gang was destroyed.  The former felon has a variety of skills that come into play through the season, with his intelligence and grey morality proving their worth several times.

The alien invaders consist of the Skitters, which are insectoid foot soldiers.  They are aided by the robotic Mechs and rapid Airships.  Landed motherships based in the ruins of the major cities, such as Boston, serve as their headquarters.  One of the primary objectives is capturing and “harnessing” human children, rendering them servile as well as allowing communication with the Skitters via radio waves.  These forces are all controlled by the Slenders- tall, thin and vaguely humanoid aliens who make their entrance toward the end of the season. 

The series does suffer from pacing issues.  Good drama in any genre focuses on interpersonal relationships with multidimensional characters.  Science fiction and military dramas, however, also give us some action while moving the story forward.  The first season gave us a too much exposition and an overabundance of clichéd character drama without moving the plot significantly forward.  Further, until the finale, there was not a sense of danger.  This took a promising if familiar story and sapped a lot of its potential.

There are two main plot points that weaken the series.  The first would be the ”mech bullet”, which made human pistol strong enough to destroy Mechs.   It comes off as a cheap videogame deus ex machina- “You found Super ImageBullets”- not a solution for a supposedly gritty series.  Secondly, the reason for the invasion seems to defy logic.  They have interstellar travel, advanced weaponry and presumably technology in general- find Earth, come to Earth and invade to capture child slaves and scrap metal.  The former might make sense at some level, but the latter does not given the abundance of metals on other planets or in the asteroid belt.  If these major issues and the pacing are addressed in the next season, the show can make up for its lost momentum.

Overall, the first season felt ponderous.  The action was slim though generally well done.  The characters have been fleshed out pretty strongly, but there have also been times that people broke character for the sake of forcing drama.  The motivations of the invaders are still unknown and somewhat illogical.  However, the finale was impressive with a genuinely surprising twist.  If the pacing and quick fix issues are addressed early in season two, there is a lot of promise in “Falling Skies”.

We have an assortment of bonus features on the DVD and Blu-Ray versions.  An extended version of the pilot is welcomed, but doesn’t provide any big surprises.  It does feature its own commentary track, as do five of the other episodes.  The featurettes, (“Making the Skitter”, “Harness Makeup” and “Director One on One”), are fairly blasé.   The last one, “Day in the Life”, is somewhat interesting in explaining the so-called normal activities, but even it falls flat.  Likewise, the deleted scenes and character profiles don’t do much but extend some scenes without adding anything to the overall story.  The 2011 Comic-Con panel movie is a welcome addition.  The Blu-Ray has two exclusive extras- a short film on creating the comic book plus a collectible trading card.  To sum up, the extra features are fairly mediocre, but do add a bit of value. 

If you enjoyed Falling Skies, these discs are a good buy.  Or, if you have a history buff in the family, Father’s Day is this weekend- they might enjoy the series given the American Revolution parallels.  

Season Two of “Falling Skies” premieres this Sunday (June 17th) at 9pm/8 central on TNT. 

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