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51 (2011)
Director: Jason Connery

review by Ian Sales

51 is yet another jump on an already over-crowded bandwagon. The title refers to Area 51, aka: Groom Lake, a US Air Force base covering 575 square miles of Nevada desert. The base is used to test experimental and secret aircraft. Certainly the Lockeed U-2, SR-71A, and F-117 stealth fighter were all tested there. In the popular imagination, however, Area 51 is better-known as the site of the USA's secret facility for investigating alien technology, and this is how it has been presented in numerous films and television programmes. 51 is no exception.

The film begins with a black SUV driving fast along a dirt track. It is, we are given to understand, en route to Area 51. But what sort of air force base is only reachable by a dirt track? AFBs, even secret ones, see plenty of traffic; they need proper roads, perhaps even highways. They have large entrances with barriers and lots of armed guards in sentry boxes. And when we do see Area 51, it does indeed resemble an air force base, albeit one comprising only a handful of hangars. One of which is clearly labelled 'hangar 18'.

Colonel Martin (Bruce Boxleitner) helpfully explains the situation to his staff. His superiors, in a spirit of openness, have decided to invite some journalists onto the base for a guided tour. They will get to see some secrets, but not all of them. They will definitely not get to see the aliens being held captive in underground level four. The two journalists - plainly this PR exercise is not as newsworthy as USAF thinks - are network news anchor Sam Whitaker (John Shea), and 'news blogger' Claire Fallon (Vanessa Branch). Each is accompanied by an assistant, Whitaker's carrying a TV camera, and Fallon's a SLR. Not a digital camera, however, but one that uses 35mm film, suggesting Fallon is not quite as committed to online journalism as she claims. But then the concept of a celebrity news blogger - even a beautiful one - is pretty much in keeping with the rest of 51.

From the moment the journalists arrive, it's plain how the plot of 51 will unfold. To wit, the journalists will be shown some military marvels, the aliens will escape, everyone will be trapped inside the base, the aliens will stalk and kill them, and eventually the most sympathetic characters will escape. And so it goes. Area 51's 'patient zero', a faceless meta-morph who resembles a man in a bodysuit with veins stuck all over it, overpowers his keepers when being fed. He releases 'Little Devil' and 'Lady Death', a child and mother alien clearly inspired by the creatures from the Alien franchise. The humans are assisted in their fight by J-Rod, a Grey, who has been at Area 51 since 1947.

51 has not only jumped on the bandwagon, it has pillaged it before leaping aboard. No clich´┐Ż is left unused. A pair of USAF sentries - Hannah (Rachel Miner), and Schumacher (Jason London) - are intended to provide light relief, and do display some small modicum of wit. But even their character-arcs are straight from a 'how to screen-write' book. Schumacher shot himself in the foot so he wouldn't have to go into combat and is now reviled as a coward. Hannah was shot down in enemy territory but then rescued, and subsequently lionised by the press. Later, Fallon revealed the truth behind the incident and now Hannah is regarded as a 'false hero' by her peers. Both, of course, redeem themselves by the end of the film.

There is nothing in 51 to recommend it. It adds nothing to popular culture's rendering of Area 51, Roswell, or X-Files type alien investigations. The filmmakers may like to think 51 is a homage to such films - and there are plenty of examples of such throughout its 90-minute length. Not only the mention of hangar 18, and the resemblance of Little Devil and Lady Death to H.R. Giger's creature, but also references to Aliens, The Thing, and other SF films. In all other respects, the film is cheaply and poorly made. A lieutenant carrying an assault rifle accompanies the journalists - officers would not be armed thus. Nor does the presence of uniformed airmen and military vehicles make half a dozen hangars at some minor city airport into a USAF base.

If the apple does not fall far from the tree, then 51 provides ample evidence why Sean Connery has never tried his hand at directing. Jason Connery was once best remembered for playing the tile role in Robin Of Sherwood. If 51 is any indication of his directorial prowess, he should perhaps have remained satisfied with that.


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