Area 51 (2011)


I’ll forgive the SyFy Channel for a lot of things, and have given positive reviews to all sorts of daftness. But there are times when the introductory logic of a film is so daft that you spend the first half shouting abuse at the screen, and you know what? That’s rarely a good indicator of enjoyment. That the second half is plenty entertaining is even more surprising, I suppose; but I’m still not sure it ends up on the “win” pile.


Maybe SyFy are hoping you’ll ignore their bonkers premise with what is a very strong (for them) cast. Bruce Boxleitner is Colonel Martin, Rachel Miner (one of my favourite should’ve-been-much-bigger actors) is Sergeant Hanna, and Jason London is Sergeant Aaron “Shoes” Schumacher; then, on the civilian side, there’s John Shea (“Lois and Clark”, “Mutant X”) as TV news anchor Sam Whitaker. Any one of those four could headline a normal SyFy movie, and while I might not be exactly happy, I’d at least accept it. And then there’s a surprising name in the director’s chair – Jason Connery! He’s still acting here and there (although he doesn’t appear in this), and has also directed five movies.


Okay, so let’s discuss some fine examples of “there’s no way!” logic. Due to pressure from the media and the public, the US Army has decided to open up Area 51. To this end, they’ve invited the world’s media…oh, did I say “world’s media”? What I meant to say was one TV news anchor, his camera operator, and a blogger (apparently, the world’s most famous one, but still) with her photographer. Two people, in effect. To the opening of the most famous secret secular place on Earth. Two people.


Next up is the security and staffing of the base. When things kick off (more on that later) anyone is allowed to use the lifts to go up and down to the most secret levels, whenever they like. I know absolutely nothing about military security, but I reckon it’d be a bit beefier than…well, not having any security at all. Like a special guarded lift to get the surface, or a fingerprint scanner, or something like that. From that level of security we move to the actual guards themselves, who talk about how none of them are real soldiers or have been in proper combat (all except Sergeant Hanna, whose battlefield heroics were discovered to be fake by the blogger lady and her site “The Fact Zone”). Now, if you’re guarding what the movie reveals you to be guarding, why leave like 20 completely green recruits to be the only protection you have? And why does the movie go out of its way to portray them as stupid? What the hell is going on?


As well as the logic of all this, there’s the hefty coincidence that starts the movie. Anyway, let’s get to it – turns out Area 51 does indeed house several different aliens! The first one we meet is “Patient Zero”, who looks like a normal human entirely covered in gross testicle skin, and can transform itself – clothes and all – into anyone he touches, and perfectly recreate anything it hears that person say. Then there’s Lady Death and her son Little Devil, who both look like the aliens from “Aliens”, but with the barest minimum of legal differences between the two. Oh, and J-Rod, who looks like a classic “grey”, can speak, is quite friendly, and is basically super-powered. J-Rod’s cool, but the other three decide that day out of their decades of confinement is the day they’re going to try and escape, which seems a coincidence too hefty to be called a coincidence (there’s no indication that any of them know that’s the day the reporters are coming, or even – J-Rod excepted – that they can understand human speech). Given the terrible state of the base’s defences, I have no idea how they even managed to allow themselves to be locked up in the first place.


So the plot then turns into a diabolical mix of “Aliens” and “The Thing”. For some reason, this is the worst lit military base in the world, too, which always irritates me. “Movie lighting” is a guideline, not a rule! Anyway, humans get picked off fairly quickly and with plenty of gore thrown around, Sergeant Hanna redeems herself, re: bravery, “Shoes” redeems himself re: combat, and there’s something of a twist when it comes down to whether the news of real aliens existing is going to get out into the world.


Like I said, it’s sort of fun, I’m a big fan of Rachel Miner and Bruce Boxleitner, and provided you don’t think at all, you’ll probably have a good time. But it’s just so lazy! It feels like we’re supposed to imagine the real Area 51 and just superimpose it on top of this cheap, rickety, almost empty set, imagine more reporters, imagine better aliens. If I wanted to imagine things I wouldn’t be watching a damned SyFy movie!


Rating: thumbs in the middle