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Dark Skies Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Review

Dark Skies (2013) movie poster Dark Skies

Theatrical Release: February 22, 2013 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Scott Stewart

Cast: Keri Russell (Lacy Barrett), Josh Hamilton (Daniel Barrett), Dakota Goyo (Jesse Barrett), Kadan Rockett (Sam Barrett), J.K. Simmons (Edwin Pollard), LJ Benet (Kevin Ratner), Rich Hutchman (Mike Jessop), Myndy Crist (Karen Jessop), Annie Thurman (Shelly Jessop), Jake Washburn (Bobby Jessop), Ron Ostrow (Richard Klein), Tom Costello (Young Father), Marion Kerr (Young Mother), Alyvia Alyn Lind (Young Daughter), Josh Stamberg (Police Officer), June Christopher (Protection One Operator), Brian Stepanek (Security System Technician), Judith Moreland (Janice Rhodes)

Buy Dark Skies from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet • DVD • Instant Video

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton, two actors who have been around for a long time, get the highest-profile roles they've had in a while in Dark Skies. They play focal parents in this generically-titled genre film, about the height of exposure for actors in their late 30s and early 40s who aren't quite movie stars.

Sci-fi and horror are the genres in question and if you're at all up on either, you will find much of this rather familiar.
Lacy (Russell) and Daniel Barrett (Hamilton) are a married couple with two sons. These residents of Anytown, USA are struggling to make mortgage payments. Dad is an out-of-work architect and Mom is a realtor who is honest to a fault. Their financial problems get pushed aside when their house becomes subject to a number of disturbances. One night, the fridge is raided. Another, the family's kitchen contents are turned into impressive gravity-defying towers. Then, all the many photos on display in the living room suddenly disappear from their frames.

The Barretts reactivate their home security system, but neither it nor the police have any answers, other than to suggest that maybe these incidents are not break-ins, but cries for attention from one of the two kids. We suspect otherwise, because the film opens with an Arthur C. Clarke quote on the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

In "Dark Skies", Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton) have their sleep disturbed on a number of early summer nights.

Still, the kids are not entirely clear of suspicion. Young Sammy (Kadan Rockett) reports of being contacted by the Sandman in the night, while 13-year-old Jesse (Real Steel's Dakota Goyo, already beginning his awkward phase) has been hanging out with an older boy (L.J. Benet) of dubious influence.

As the Fourth of July approaches, the movie unfolds with a barrage of standard horror devices. Each Barrett experiences an episode of disorientation, from staring blankly and shrieking to a bizarrely derailed house showing. Flocks of birds fly into the house's windows to their death. Bruises and markings start showing up on the kids' bodies to concerns of child services.

Such tropes won't seem original to pop-cultured viewers, but effectively implemented, they are unsettling and, at times, chilling. Still searching for answers after surveillance cameras are momentarily scrambled, Lacy's Internet research puts her in touch with a conspiracy theorist blogger (J.K. Simmons) who claims to be an expert in explaining the inexplicable.

Young Sammy (Kadan Rockett) needs Mr. Sandman to stop bringing him dreams. When the Barretts need answers, they turn to Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons), a conspiracy theorist with an apartment full of cats.

Dark Skies has the ignoble distinction of being one of the most expensive and lowest-grossing films of producer Jason Blum, a man whose recent credits are advertised in the marketing instead of the cast or director. Low-budget thrills are Blum's specialty and his ability to generate mid-range to blockbuster grosses with very little spending has made him one of the most financially successful filmmakers of the past few years,
with a résumé that includes the Paranormal Activity series, the soon to be sequelized Insidious, and Sinister. Dark Skies may not have fared as well as those, but with a reported production budget of $3.5 million and a domestic gross of $17.4 M, it seems to have done just fine, especially considering its less than distinctive concept and cool reception from critics and moviegoers.

While it may not be treading new territory or blowing your mind, Dark Skies does a much better job of sustaining your attention than director Scott Stewart's previous effort, the awful Priest. Unlike that film, visual effects veteran Stewart wrote this one and while it feels like an amalgam of better films from Poltergeist to Signs, I can't deny enjoying the ride it took me on even through the end, when so many horror flicks fall apart.

A rare release from The Weinstein Company's Dimension Films label, Dark Skies hits stores on Tuesday in a DVD and a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Dark Skies: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray and DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Video Extras Subtitled in English; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 28, 2013
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 transfer does a nice job of presenting Dark Skies, which has more bright scenes than you might expect from its title and marketing. The element is clean, sharpness and detail are okay, and the low budget doesn't seem to have limited the polished film's appearance in any way. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is more notable and commendable. It includes piercing ringing sounds befitting of the subject matter and a nicely immersive experience throughout.

Security System Technician (Brian Stepanek of "Suite Life" and DEX fame) resurfaces in this deleted scene to recommend surveillance cameras. Someone's a Paranormal Activity fan! The Dark Skies Blu-ray and DVD's main menu montage take the title quite literally.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The central bonus feature is an audio commentary by writer/director Scott Stewart, producer Jason Blum, executive producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, and editor Peter Gvozdas. The group talks all the way through, sharing plenty of thoughts and details on casting, structure, staging, effects,

drawing audience reactions, post-production continuity fixes, and stretching the budget (by using the sun as lighting, for instance). There's nothing too unusual or interesting, but these passionate four make clear they didn't approach this project half-assed.

Beyond that, we get a collection of nine deleted and alternate scenes (14:22), which, for some reason, are presented in standard definition. They include an additional appearance by Brian Stepanek, more 4th of July pyrotechnics, and a solemn, strange alternate ending. The lot can also be viewed with commentary by Stewart and Gvozdas, who explain the cuts and changes.

The same DVD sold on its own, this one includes the same extras as the Blu-ray, a gracious move uncommon across the industry but typical for Anchor Bay.

Each disc opens with menu-inaccessible trailers (which are HD on the Blu-ray) for Scream 4, Scary Movie 5, 6 Souls, and The Lords of Salem (if that was The Lords of Seven instead, that would have been quite an impressive display of counting). Unfortunately, Dark Skies' own trailer is not included here. It boggles my mind that Weinstein refuses to see the unmistakable value to including trailers alongside films, especially on a platter like this which doesn't have much else to offer.

The main menus play dark, moody, sound design-heavy scenery full size above listings. The Blu-ray frustratingly does not support bookmarks or resume playback, another area holding Weinstein BDs back.

Two inserts are found within the unslipcovered standard keepcase, which recycles fairly deceptive poster artwork. One holds your unique code for downloading the complimentary UltraViolet stream of the film (promised to be good through at least June 2015). The other supplies coupons for $2 off Anchor Bay's Blu-ray and DVD editions of The Dead, The Crazies, The Divide, and Scream 4.

Angsty 13-year-old Jesse (Dakota Goyo) needs to be told not to touch the hordes of dead birds surrounding the Barretts' house. Scrambled home surveillance camera footage troublingly suggests an otherworldly intruder.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You don't have to be a cynic to declare that Dark Skies is nothing you haven't seen before. Still, it demonstrates why so many movies dramatize extraterrestrials and unexplained phenomena, because when done right (as this mostly is), you find yourself intrigued and entertained. I fully recognize the cinematic mileage of devices like surveillance cameras, nightmare fake-outs, and barking dogs, but was still able to relate to this family and wish for their safety. I can't guarantee that your eyes won't roll enough to allow you to do the same.

Sporting a strong feature presentation and a decent assembly of extras, this versatile Blu-ray combo pack is a perfectly adequate release. I wish it included the film's trailer and that the Blu-ray wasn't such a chore to resume, but those criticisms are far from unique to this set.

Buy Dark Skies now from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Mama • In the Cut & Trapped • Beautiful Creatures • Priest of Evil • Silver Linings Playbook • My Neighbor Totoro
Directed by Scott Stewart: Priest | Produced by Jason Blum: Insidious • Paranormal Activity 2 • Paranormal Activity 3 • Lawless
Poltergeist • The Hole • Arachnophobia • Red Lights • Knowing • Chronicle • Skyline • The Darkest Hour
Keri Russell: Mickey Mouse Club: The Best of Britney, Justin & Christina • Bedtime Stories • Extraordinary Measures • Felicity: Season 4
Josh Hamilton: Margaret • Away We Go • J. Edgar | Dakota Goyo: Real Steel • Rise of the Guardians
J.K. Simmons: Juno • Extract • Spider-Man • Spider-Man 2 • Spider-Man 3 • The Words • I Love You, Man

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Reviewed May 25, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 Dimension Films, Alliance Films, Blumhouse Productions, IM Global, Robotproof,
Anchor Bay Entertainment, Dimension Home Entertainment, and The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.