Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Bruce Boxleitner, Rachel Miner, Jason London, John Shea, Vanessa Bracht
Directed by Jason Connery
If the After Dark Films/Syfy co-production Area 51 is to be remembered in the annals of filmdom for anything at all, it will be for the appearance of what may very well be cinema’s first ever handicapped killer alien. The way this bipedal creature’s stick-like arms go all the way down to the ground to help it move evoked imagery of a crippled person using crutches for assisted walking. Think Jimmy from “South Park” if Jimmy looked like Pumpkinhead mated with Xtro and a preying mantis and all he had on his mind was killing everyone in sight as part of a jail break instead of telling lame jokes. I can honestly say I have never seen an alien in a movie quite like this particular one.
It’s not alone. There are also some other somewhat unique alien designs. Like the good little telepathic alien that sounds like a BonziBuddy when it talks and looks like a hairless, dehydrated, slightly barbecued koala bear. Or the “morpher”, a humanoid extraterrestrial with the ability to morph into anyone it touches and mimic their voice as long as it is copying words and phrases it has heard that person speak. In its natural state the morpher, lacking facial features, its body completely covered with pinkish, bulging vein skin, resembles a humanoid scrotum. Rather icky to look at, actually.
Several days have passed since I watched the Syfy premiere of Area 51, and I would be lying if I said very much about it sticks in my memory outside of the imagery of a handi-capable alien, the helpful psychic space koala with the skin complexion of a rotting yam, and the transforming alien with an exo-scrotum exterior. All are brought to life primarily via practical effects work with some CGI enhancements here and there, automatically making their appearance a visual improvement over Syfy’s usual array of computer-generated monsters that are almost always either unconvincing looking or limited by the amount of screen time and on-screen interaction due to their digital nature. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ll take practical effects that aren’t always 100% convincing over shoddy computer effects any day of the week. Director Jason Connery (son of Sean) deserves credit for going this f/x route.
The rest of the movie is fairly forgettable, as evidenced by how much of it I’ve already forgotten days later. Area 51 falls back on too many shopworn clichés of the genre: a being with the ability to look like anyone fatally tricking others, multiple Alien-esque tail through the chest impalings, another one of those “who is really the alien?” testing scenes that have been done to death ever since John Carpenter’s The Thing, the obligatory activation of a self-destruct sequence, and a plot that rarely gets any more deep than killer aliens attempting to break out of captivity with the threat of them potentially contacting their species to launch an all-out invasion of Earth if not stopped. In a few instances the story garners a little bit of sympathy for the imprisoned extraterrestrials by casting their militaristic enslavers in a more villainous light, but this notion doesn’t get dealt with enough to actually put a more interesting spin on otherwise routine tropes.
A hard-nosed Internet journalist and a snooty network news anchorman have been invited into the infamous Area 51 by the United States military to prove once and for all that there are no secrets being kept hidden. “A new sense of honesty and transparency”, declares the Colonel in charge of the base (the always game Bruce Boxleitner). Of course, he also lets it be known to base security that if either of them or their camera people attempt to head down into the lower levels where the real goods are locked up, they are to be shot on sight. He also tells the journalists, “You may report on what I show you, but if I ask you not to report on something, you are to oblige.” Uh, how exactly is this supposed to be a new sense of honesty and transparency?
This day just happens to be the day that the morpher finally decides he wants out and attempts to escape by killing several people and freeing a couple of its fellow intergalactic captives, so everyone in the end gets more than they ever could have bargained for.
Rachel Miner and Jason London play a pair of Air Force soldiers on guard duty that stand around for half the film waiting to finally be included in the plot. London’s character is constantly mocked for having once accidentally shot himself in the foot. Miner’s character will inevitable lose half of her uniform so that she can run around fighting aliens in a tight, white undershirt. It’s never the male character that ends up losing his top in movies like this; ever noticed that?
Except for the morpher that spends much of its time looking like differing humans, most of the aliens are kept off-camera for much of the film; you’ll hear them hiss and growl and hear their victims Wilhelm scream their way to the great beyond. It won’t be until well into the film when the assisted walking predator appears front and center and the nice alien Yoda-esque begins questioning its loyalty that Area 51 really finds its groove. All of which, disappointingly, leads to a fairly lame ending, mostly because of just how clumsily the final scene is staged. I’d write this one off as being a bit better than average by Syfy standards but still below par by conventional standards. For the life of me I cannot fathom this having ever been considered for the After Dark Horrorfest because it isn’t scary in the slightest and plays like a standard sci-fi action flick about soldiers confined to a single location fending off rampaging aliens we’ve seen a million times before.
Watching Area 51 really made me long for that third Under Siege sequel rumored about a few years back that reportedly would have seen Steven Seagal Die Hard-ing it up against insidious alien beings that have seized control of Area 51. If only…
2 1/2 out of 5
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