51 (2011)

51 (2011)

Welcome to the future

After political pressure from the media forces the American government to re-think their approach to Area 51, a small group of reporters are allowed into the top secret military facility for a limited-access tour. The tour is designed to provide non-essential secrets to be purposely leaked so that the media’s attention is diverted away from the real secrets that the base holds. But one of Area 51’s alien captives takes advantage of the situations and breaks free, releasing other captives and trapping the group of reporters in the facility.

 

I’m all for original horror films being released, especially ones that are free of the cruel, strangling grip of mainstream Hollywood cinema. So when After Dark Films began to release a stream of ‘original’ horror films in 2011 and 2012, I had faith that at least some small studios were attempting to do their own thing. Unfortunately once I sat down and watched a few of them (Husk and Prowl spring to mind), I realised that the films were exactly the same sort of thing that I’d been watching for years only with lesser budgets and lesser casts. ‘Original’ they were not – derivative most definitely. Case in point today: 51.

Starting off with the promise of some good ideas, 51 simply reverts back to the standard ‘people trapped in a confined space with a monster loose’ formula by the twenty minute mark. Then it’s a case of how many times the film can rip-off Aliens, Predator and the scores of alien flicks made since. The original idea of allowing the media a glimpse into the workings of Area 51 was a solid, if somewhat shallow, set-up but at least it allowed for some interesting ideas. There’s little in the way of hidden political messages to this, just a novel idea which is discarded pretty quickly when everyone starts to turn into alien nosh. The film could have done a better job at presenting ‘Area 51’ for a start– the most secretive place on Earth yet here it is guarded by a handful of marines who seem more bemused with their pointless posting than worrying about what is lying underneath them in the facility.

Nevertheless, the story just serves as a set-up to get a load of people into the facility and once the aliens break free, we don’t care whether they’re reporters, cameramen, scientists or generals. This is where the film shifts into Aliens mode, providing the alien escapees with not only the reporters but another handful of bodies to rip through, sending in a batch of marines to rescue the survivors and indulge us with the token action scenes. We know that the marines aren’t going to succeed because there wouldn’t be a story if they did. So it’s just a matter of waiting for the inevitable to pass by so that we can get back to the main characters that actually have first names. It’s also daft to believe that a bunch of well-armed marines are taken out a lot quicker than the reporters but hey, this is the movies after all. Both groups of people continue to run around the same sets for the majority of the second half and there’s little variation to the film. One warehouse looks the same as another one. Every corridor seems to be the same but just shot from different angles.

On the plus side, the special effects are pretty good. The aliens are all brought to life through practical effects. So they’re either guys in suits (like the shape shifter in his indigenous form) or slimy prosthetic creatures. Again, like I stated in my recent review for The Blackout, it’s painfully obvious where the creatures get their inspiration from, with black, shiny skin and dripping mouths (including the now-obligatory shot of a helpless victim lying in front of an alien rearing its head up and about to attack). H.R. Giger has a lot to answer for and it seems almost canon that 90% of aliens in film now must look like the xenomorph from Alien. That’s a real credit to Giger’s immense creation but also a damning indication of the lack of imagination that everyone else has when it comes to original alien design. Surely designers can come up with something other than another black-skinned, acid-spewing monster with sharp teeth and an aggressive streak? Obviously not. There’s also very little in the way of CGI and the deaths are pretty gory too which is a bit strange considering this aired on the Sci-Fi Channel.

 

51 isn’t terrible but it’s so unimaginative and thin on story and script that in the hands of a better director and writer, a few more risks could have been taken to give it that extra dimension. As it stands, 51 is a perfect example of just how little originality there is left anywhere at the moment – everyone is too content to play it safe, tow the line and make underwhelming films. Whatever happened to the risk-takers and the pioneers?

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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