To celebrate the release of exciting new sci-fi action adventure Beyond Skyline we talked to the film’s director, Liam O’Donnell about his influneces on the film, covering everything from Predator and Terminator 2 to Big Trouble in Little China and Indiana Jones.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
My favourite movie as a kid was Raiders of the Lost Ark. In fact, it’s been my favourite movie my whole life. The sense of adventure and fun that it has is something I wanted to bring to my movie. I wanted to take the audience on a journey and do something that’s different and somewhat unexpected. Also, as a kid, it seemed that THE most fun thing you could do with your life would be to make movies like that!
DIE HARD (1988)
The second would be Die Hard, which I think is a perfect action movie, and I very much wanted to have a John McClane type character in the film. You know, vaguely alcoholic, dealing with grief, family trauma – and trying to reach out to his son. And then… BOOM an alien invasion happens and he gets thrust into this crazy adventure. He’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. So Mark (played by Frank Grillo) moving through the shit, talking to himself, navigating airshafts and that sort of thing was very much a conscious influence from Die Hard. It was something that I thought could bring an element of wry humour and fun to an alien adventure.
TERMINATOR 2 (1991)
Third would be Terminator 2. It was an incredibly influential film for me that I saw at the right time. I’ve probably watched it 45 times, over and over again. To me it’s a great father-son story, so that had a lot of influence on the Mark and Trent (played by Jonny Weston) characters in Beyond Skyline and how their relationship moves through the movie. And not to give too much away, but there is our own version of a John Connor type character too, and that changes Mark’s character in the latter half of the movie. To see Mark step into a protector role has some of the most heart in the film. Terminator 2 is one of those movies that has everything that I love; it has amazing practical effects, set-pieces, action, characters, heart and dramatic elements. So that is everything that I would ever want to do in a movie.
Four would be the first R-Rated movie that I ever saw, which was Predator. A lot of people have said that Beyond Skyline has a Predator vibe. And that’s partly because we have practical effects and jungle elements. But it’s particularly because of the design of the ‘Pilots’ (the aliens) in this movie. We have so many shots where our ‘Shepherd’ and ‘Pilot’ characters interact with humans, so it was really important that we had the practical element. Once you start filming with suits it’s so much fun you never want to stop. I ended up getting in each of the alien suits myself for different little pick-up shots. One of the great things about making this movie with Greg and Colin (The Brothers Strause) at Hydraulx is that they own all their own cameras, they own their own stage, and they bought the suits. So we could just go back with a tiny little crew on green-screen and we could pick up different angles and inserts, and some of them ended up being the hero-shots in the movie! I pretty much got to fulfil every nerd fantasy (laughs) that I had on this thing. I got to play monsters as well as make a monster movie.
In fact, the first movie that I ever worked on was Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). That film was pretty much my film school. I was 24 years old, getting to work right in the middle of this movie and getting exposed to practical effects. And it influenced me in how I wanted to have practical suits in my film too. The first time I saw a Predator come out on set – and seeing the three laser points go across the ground and up my leg and onto my chest – was a huge pinch-me moment. I just couldn’t believe I was looking at a Predator after loving the movie my whole life. There is something about that design that is so cool because it’s scary in one way but it can also be heroic. And it’s not something that would be SO horrific to become. And in our movie – because there is this element of humans having their brains ripped out and put into aliens – I thought it would be too tragic and horrific if the design of that alien wasn’t cool in some way. They needed to be scary and threatening but at the same time there is a bit of an empowerment fantasy; it’s a little bit ‘super- hero’ to become one. I was very much trying to capture the essence of something that was frightening but also pretty cool. And obviously we have our jungle scenes too, and our mission evokes Predator as well.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
For the fifth film I’d have to say Big Trouble in Little China. It’s the perfect influence for where things end up in our third act; sci-fi with martial arts madness. It was a lucky accident in this film that we managed to get Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid. And they bring what they do so well to our third act. Big Trouble in Little China is another one of those movies that I saw at the exact right time. I thought it was the best film ever made. And I remember trying to make my own martial arts films that Summer; trying to find a vent to a lost underworld beneath my city. And I really like that Wang is really the hero in the movie and Jack is more of a sidekick. I didn’t want to short-change Iko’s character in the film, or make him second-fiddle to Frank’s. Once they meet, they go to toe-to-toe and Iko carries his own scenes from that point on; he’s not treated as something lesser. I wanted them to have their own heroic aspects and scenes, have their own plots – and have conflicts with each other – but ultimately work together to save mankind.
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
Definitely one of the things we also talked about at a script stage is that Beyond Skyline is a bit of a Vietnam War movie; it takes place in Laos. Apocalypse Now is my favourite war film and one that inspired me when writing this. There were psychedelic elements to the Vietnam War, and that bridge scene has always stuck with me; the way they are shooting flares into the sky. And I definitely thought that we could have our own version of those flares in our temple scene. We did camera tests to try and use cheap flares during that scene, but it was a UNESCO World Heritage site, (laughs) so they didn’t want us setting it on fire. We ended up just using lights and camera, but that was something that, in a humble way, we were paying homage to and inspired by.
Another film that was strangely inspiring for Beyond Skyline was Skyfall. I really loved the third act and the way it took a left turn and took everything to a very remote but personal place; all the bad guys close in on our hero and burn his house down. So when I was struggling to figure out how to set up the big third act battle – I really wanted to do a siege scene – I just happened to see Skyfall at the right time when I was writing. And I used what I could from it. Stole what I could!
LOST Season 2 (2005/2006)
The idea of the first act of our film being sometimes called a ‘side-quel’ – as it happens concurrently with the events of the first movie – was actually inspired by an episode of season two of LOST. In it we saw Michelle Rodriguez and the other survivors as they ran through the entire first season from this other point of view. I thought it was a smart episode and similarly we condense the entire first Skyline movie into the first act; see it from a more visceral, on-the-streets viewpoint. The idea being that because the first Skyline was such a cool – but limited – perspective, we could utilise this and see it from a new point of view.
Beyond Skyline is out now on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray