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Featured DVD Review: 51

September 18th, 2011

51 - Buy from Amazon

"Syfy presents" That's a terrible way to start a movie, as almost all Syfy TV movies are really bad. On the other hand, After Dark's original movies have had a lot better success when it comes to low-budget horror. 51 cost just $1 million to make, will that be enough continue the studio's winning streak? Or will is be more in line with the network's average?

The Movie

As the name suggests, 51 takes place in Area 51, the super secret testing facility for experimental aircraft. It is also rumored to be the place where the government keeps all of the aliens that have been captured. After years of these rumors, the government finally relents and allows a select group of reporters to visit the top secret base for the first time. Bruce Boxleitner plays Colonel Ronald Martin, who's in charge of the operation, but not exactly happy with it. The two reporters that are getting access are Sam Whitaker, a respected evening news anchor, and Claire Fallon, a blogger who is more of a muckraker, but with a reputation for utmost integrity. The pair of them, and their photographer / assistants Mindy and Kevin, will be given a tour of the first two levels, where they keep the new weapons, cutting edge surveillance systems, etc. But they won't be going any deeper.

So what is deeper? Among the many aliens, there's Patient Zero. About 25 years ago an alien craft crashed and there was one surviving alien, a morpher. It's humanoid in shape, but can alter its appearance to look like anyone it sees. It can even mimic voices, but it can only repeat what it hears. It's been kept in lock-down all this time, but for the most part it's been kept happy with a regular regimen of food, drugs, and its favorite music. However, with the reporters stopping in and creating a distraction, not to mention the skeleton crew in place, it's the perfect time to escape, and free its fellow alien prisoners.

At this point, we get into spoiler trouble. Although there are not many twists here that you probably can't guess. For instance, it's not hard to predict the morpher will turn into someone in front of an armed solider and the solider will shoot the wrong guy. The fact that it happens twice in one scene is a bit much to take. Predictability is arguably the film's biggest weakness, but it's not a fatal one. Nor are the plot holes fatal either. (Given the nature of what they have locked up in Area 51, there's a surprising lack of back-up plans in place.) So with these two issues, the plot's a little suspect. What about the other aspects of the film? Well, there are pretty good moments of tension in the movie and some good kills. There are a few too many off camera kills in the beginning, but I guess they wanted to save the big reveals for later. The aliens are pretty cool, given the budget limitations. The acting is better than expected. I knew Bruce Boxleitner would be solid in this, because he always is. However, the supporting cast is better than average for this type of film. The actor who plays Lieutenant Kamecki, Julius Washington, didn't have many lines, but the line he delivers to Kevin is great. (I won't spoiler it here.) Sergeant Hannah and Private Schumacher have the most character depth and they deserve a mention.

The Extras

There is a nine-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that includes the usual mix of talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage. There are also two trailers for the Rise of Nightmare video game. Granted, this isn't a real special feature and is just an ad, but it is rather unique.

The Verdict

Granted, 51 is a low budget sci-fi film that cost just $1 million to make and was filmed in just 15 days, but I think it rises above its limitations. The DVD doesn't have a lot of extras, but it is at least worth a rental.

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Filed under: Video Review, 51