OCTOBER 12, 2011
My buddy Kristian had admonished 51 over his Twitter due to the fact that they made the Air Force characters out to be idiots (he is in the Air Force himself – respect!), but even he admitted that the movie otherwise wasn’t too bad, and I fully agree. For the most part it’s the same generic aliens/soldiers/base combo movie that you’ve seen a dozen times on Syfy alone (which is where this premiered), but if you actually compare it to one of those things you’ll easily see that this one is more worthy of your time.
For starters – the monsters are practical!!! Notice I put THREE exclamation points: one for each monster. I like to imagine that they couldn’t decide on the kind of alien during the writing process – should it be a traditional “little green man”? Or a shapeshifter? Or just some all-purpose, insect/lizard/rock monster type thing? Well fuck it, they went with all three, and even cooler, they all have their own motives. The shapeshifter guy seemingly wants to access information and find something, the big monster just wants to lumber around and kill dudes every now and then, and the little green guy… well, he’s actually on our side, using his telekinesis and other powers to aid our protagonists as they attempt to both escape and contain the other aliens. So it’s sort of like a smorgasbord of generic ideas, but I liked that it wasn’t so straightforward. Also, by having them off on their own adventures, none ever wore out their welcome. Shapeshifting antics getting old? Let’s cut to the big guy dragging some poor sod down a hallway or up through a ceiling vent.
And again – practical! The only CG I caught was in a few impact shots (tentacle/blade things penetrating a guy’s chest or whatever); otherwise it was all rubber monster and animatronic stuff. Given the fact that Syfy movies have consistently produced the worst CGI ever seen in a film not directed by Stephen Sommers, it’s always a relief when they decide to go with something practical, and that it’s used for a reasonably entertaining movie in its own right makes it all the more appreciated.
I also enjoyed the lack of evil human characters. Sure, the head Army guy (Bruce Boxleitner) has been lying about aliens and also conducted an autopsy on one (lying to the green dude in the process), but he’s not some gung ho asshole intent on killing everyone to protect his interests. Likewise, the two reporter characters (one played by John Shea from Stealing Home – his character’s name is Sam in both films!) don’t put others in danger in order to secure some major news scoop; hell, I don’t think either of them even mention the possibility of a Pulitzer, which is like the go-to line for these sort of characters. The female (Vanessa Branch) even gets a gun and fights alongside Boxleitner!
Our other heroes aren’t so interesting. Nothing against Rachel Miner and Jason London; maybe they’re not the best actors in the world, but they’re certainly personable enough in most of their movies. The problem is they seem to be in a different movie until the final 15 minutes; they never encounter the other characters until then, and don’t even seem to be aware of the alien problem until the movie’s half over. Instead they just sit around wondering what their purpose is and trading back-stories, like they just stepped in from a Jarhead TV pilot or something. And when they finally do spring into action it’s always with the big monster, who is the least interesting for obvious reasons.
I also wish they did more with the shapeshifter. As with Super 8, he actually has a fairly benevolent purpose, so he can’t go all out and just start killing folks for no reason. But apart from a brief “let’s test each other to see who’s human” scene (which just involves shining a light in each person’s eyes – zzz), the shapeshift scenes are all the same. Alien grabs a human, morphs into him, and then a 3rd party isn’t sure which one’s which. This always ends with the human dying (this movie has a ridiculous amount of “friendly fire” kills), and it never impersonates someone for more than a few seconds. With reviews of The Thing premake largely negative, I could really use some solid suspense/paranoia type action this week, dammit! I did love the cute sight gag early on though, when they mention that they use the shapeshifter for certain real world activities before flashing a picture of Reagan tossing out a pitch at Wrigley Field.
My only other gripe was an extended “POV” sequence in the 3rd act that seemed to go on forever. Obviously with two reporters from the start we’re going to have some camera footage with the little “record” icon and guide markers around the edges of the frame, but they keep it to a minimum for the most part. However, during a particularly exposition heavy moment where Boxleitner is formulating a plan, we switch to this view for the entire scene, complete with overuse of shakicam and edits that make no sense. I don’t know if they were just running out of time and needed a quick way to shoot the scene (the movie only took 15 days to shoot, which is pretty impressive considering how much action it has), or if it was the plan all along, but either way it really took me out of the flick at a crucial moment.
The DVD has a 10 minute making of in which the use of practical effects is rightfully applauded and covered in depth (well, as much depth as one can get in 10 non-exclusive minutes). The actors also talk a bit about their characters (riveting stuff) but they also devote a few moments to the job of the 2nd unit, an area that’s not always given their props in these things. Director Jason Connery also gets some shoutouts, though if you ask me his only priority should be convincing his father to make one last GOOD movie instead of letting fucking LXG be his cinematic swan song. The film’s trailer (which inexplicably promises a theatrical release) and a few spots for the Kinect game Rise Of Nightmares are also included – I have no Kinect so I have no use for the latter, though the idea of the game sounds cool (no idea what it has to do with this particular movie though).
As always, I should remind you that I’ve seen more of these things than I’d like to remember, and thus if you’ve never seen one and put this on as your first, you’d probably think I was nuts for saying that it was pretty decent. If so, I think you should watch Bats 2, Dead Space, Anaconda 4, The Rig, Proteus, and Eye Of The Beast (to name a few), and then give this one a look and tell me if you still think there’s nothing good about it.
What say you?