Friday, April 28, 2017

Area 51

If there's ever been a film that represented the true bottom of the barrel for Found Footage, it's Area 51. Oren Peli apparently felt that if the style worked for his first film, it could work for his second as well. However, this is not even remotely the same type of story as Paranormal Activity. A Found Footage film about simple alien abduction might have worked, but when you're dealing with the infiltration of Area 51 you've taken on an entirely different beast.

The film might have worked if we had some truly compelling characters. However, most of the actors spend the movie sounding bored. Our lead character, Reid (Reid Warner, yes characters and actors share names again) is abducted by aliens at a party. He then becomes a conspiracy theorist obsessed with aliens, and tries to talk his friends Ben and Darrin (Ben Rovner and Darrin Bragg) into coming with him on his dangerous mission.

Along the way they pick up Jelena (Jelena Nik), a young woman whose late father worked in Area 51. After his death Jelena kept many of his files in secret, and is prepared to go with them. She believes her father was murdered for asking too many questions.

The only remotely compelling character is Ben, who we gradually learn only went along with the plan because he believed Reid would get over the idea. He has to struggle with the question of whether or not to continue, and ultimately decides that he will drive them, but will not enter the base himself.

The preparation scenes would have been interesting with better characters. I can believe that these are the kinds of preparations you might make when planning to break into a Top Secret Air Force Base, however none of the characters ever seem obsessed enough to go to the lengths we're being shown. Reid in particular should be a loose-canon if he's been so truly affected by his abduction, but he always seems to be just going along with the plan as much as anyone else. I never believe that anyone involved has the level of determination to really make this happen.

Once they're in the base the movie continues to fall apart. Bad CGI is still bad CGI, even if the camera is shaking a bit. We see all the amazing alien technology, and they even get a nice chase scene when one of the captured aliens is set free.

My best guess at explaining the ending of the film is that the aliens intended Reid to break into the base and free their imprisoned companions. Why such advanced aliens needed human help I don't claim to know. The film ends with all of our protagonists abducted, and apparently brainwashed. However, the aliens decide to leave lots of footage, including footage taken aboard their ship, while abducting the human witnesses. “Keep the humans, but throw out their recording device fully intact!”

As with the Paranormal Activity films it's clear this movie lacks any real sense of an in-universe editor. In one scene the characters film a group of strippers without their knowledge or consent. Why would an editor include that footage? Not only does it add nothing to the alien storyline, it opens him up to a massive lawsuit for distributing the footage! In the real world an editor would have, at best, acknowledged via text or voice over that the footage existed, while refusing to show it to the audience for liability reasons.

As for the usual complaint of “why are they still filming?” At one point a character continues to hold his camera at eye level while a soldier points a gun at him and demands he put his hands over his head. Apparently we as an audience are too dumb to figure out what's going on if the camera is pointed at the ceiling for a few moments.

This film is just uninteresting. Try as I might, I find nothing compelling to recommend it. It uses a genre intended to evoke realism, while utterly failing to make anything seem the slightest bit real.

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