Tuesday, October 18, 2011

51 (2011)

Hard up reporters, subservient soldiers and home sick aliens

It's that day at last, folks! The government is letting journalists on a tour of the infamous Area 51 Air Force base for the first time to dispel rumors of hidden extraterrestrials. Before being let in a Colonel Ronald Martin instructs his men that if any of the guests get to the lower levels they are instructed to shoot them, with jokes to follow since a share of them are left in the dark to what's really going on. The two renowned reporters, along with camera person and photographer, are let into the above ground Hangar 18 and are shown some fancy gadgets that are declassified just for them but still think they're hiding something else. Meanwhile, you guessed it, without even beating around the bush, there's an uprising forming with aliens that Big Brother were hiding below all along.

"51" delivers exactly what its premise suggests, though not much more for the experience that already hasn't been done in other films on the subject. In, out, forgotten--a painless delivery. This isn't exactly ponderous stuff or inventive at that, just a what if question with some action and gory violence to show for itself. The most you might get after is the question of if the government has the right to hide aliens if found or have the right to experiment on them in a callous fashion to supposedly protect ourselves from what we don't understand. For TV material, the acting is mostly consistent and adequate at giving momentum to its story even if their personalities don't have staying power or come across as award winning. Even with the B movie script they're given, this is taken somewhat seriously and by its close they come with changed outlooks from the events instead of remaining the same throughout. It tries, though still feels rushed, not fully outlined and like a demo than anything else. If this were, say, a pilot for a TV show, it wouldn't have held water since the concept only takes it so far.

The budget shows with simplistic sets and a small regiment despite guarding one of the US's most secretive military base. I mean, of course, appearance is everything--in that elite guards would send off red flags--but that's why you put elite guards in regular uniforms or possibly have another base as a backup nearby in case something goes wrong or comes under attack. Then again, this isn't "The Unit" when it comes to an engaging military strategy. They're lucky they get by here. This was surprisingly light on CGI compared to some other SyFy/Sci-Fi Channel features that have aired in the past decade. The prosthetic creature effects are still somewhat scrapped together and unabashedly shown in closeups for extended periods, so compensating is a must for a viewer. It could have used some more memorable scenarios and possibly amped up the action, as for a share of it, it tries to get by only with what little it has stretched out--that includes running around possibly the same reused hallways. Some tension is attempted with various issues arising, such as a self-destruct timer ticking down and an alien called patient zero potentially escaping into the population. Three varieties of alien species are shown: cooperative, monstrous killer and chameleon. This frames two teams, with one on the upper floors guarding in case anything escapes and one roaming the bottom levels with the reporters who are both documenting and fighting the enemy as well to get out alive.

As a horror film, it provides no scares--you can't help but notice the similarities that fall short of "Alien" with drippy mouths and strange noises yet without the tension and anticipation--and the blood shed is treated like it comes with the territory rather than building up to it or actually making it cringe worthy. As a science fiction piece it feels undeveloped compared to what's come before it, especially since the history of Area 51 is only briefly taped into, just the current goings on of the secret facility. As social commentary, it doesn't always carry a dual meaning, except to say that possibly one person can make a difference or not to just blindly hide or blindly take orders. The subtext drives at bringing the truth to the light, but, then again, it's about something that does or doesn't exist, so even then it can be taken with a grain of salt. I'd imagine it still got some triumphant high fives from conspiracy theorists around the country who managed to get away from their computers and "X-Files" DVD collections.

Rating: 3.5/10

Director: Jason Connery (The Devil's Tomb, Pandemic)
Stars: Bruce Boxleitner, Rachel Miner, Jason London, Vanessa Branch, John Shea
Link: IMDB

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