It’s always best when the character you play as in a game is voiced by someone super cool with genre ties to the subject matter, whatever it may be. In Area 51 you descend into a top secret military base in response to a nasty viral contamination as Ethan Cole, a covert badass played by David Duchovny who cements the SciFi X Files vibe nicely, although the game is obviously more in shooter territory rather than investigative federal intrigue. Cole must navigate a dangerous subterranean environment as the contamination spreads and mutates the soldiers around him. No soldier game would be complete without dissension in the ranks and another sketchy team moves in headed up by hotshot Major Bridges (Powers Boothe), as well as a pesky doctor (Ian Abercrombie, who was Alfred Pennyworth in the old school Birds Of Prey cable show) who gets in the way. I’ve always thought that Marilyn Manson looks kind of like an extraterrestrial and apparently so do the makers of this game because they cast him as an alien defector named Edgar who has been held captive by the government and is none too pleased about it. I have only hazy memories of this game as I was perpetually stoned when I played it and I can’t remember if I ever made it to the end. I do recall the voice acting, Manson is cool and spacey, Boothe is his classic tough guy persona but it’s just a real treat having Duchovny play the lead, he’s got such a casual affability to his line delivery that feels both comforting and nicely nostalgic for The X Files. Cool game.
What if there was an alien organism out there whose evolutionary process unfolded at about a thousand times faster rate then ours? What if it crash landed on earth and began said process amidst our carefully balanced infrastructure and caused a modicum of pandemonium? Couple that juicy premise with the gooey Ghostbusters sensibility of Ivan Reitman and the X Files vibe that David Duchovny carries and you’ve got Evolution, one hell of a fun film. This raucous SciFi comedy didn’t make much of a critical splash and sort off faded into obscurity but it’s tough for me to see why as I had a fucking blast with it, starting with the oddly balanced comedic quartet of Duchovny and Orlando Jones (in a role that sounds like it was written for Will Smith, how cool would that have been) as college scientists, Julianne Moore as a CDC guru and Seann William ‘Stifler’ Scott as a hapless wannabe fireman. This alien species grows at a scary rate and contains the kind of arbitrarily morphing biodiversity you might find in a Super Mario game. While they kind of seem benign and don’t really have an aggressive or conquering mentality beyond their base evolutionary nature, it still seems like they need to be eradicated on the simple ‘us vs. them’ clause. An asshole military general (Ted Levine) and the blustery, stressed out governor (Dan Akroyd dressed to the nines and stealing the show) have their own ideas but they’re in over their overqualified heads and it’s up to our four heroes to figure something out. This is an escapist comedy that doesn’t take its premise too seriously but rather wants to showcase some lovingly crafted 80’s era practical effects and a few scrappy early 2000’s CGI ones too. It’s got a playful Men In Black mentality that I felt right at home in, and knows how to have a great time. My favourite scene is when four scared housewives open the pantry to find a slug/dog/platypus/seal looking thing and one of them responds dead seriously with: “When did you get a dog??” It’s that kind of lunacy that spurs this into a truly inspired piece. That and all the ooey gooey aliens running around being chased by a shotgun wielding Agent Mulder & Co. Good times.
The submarine film seems to have died off a little bit since semi recent entries like Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19 and Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide, which is why it’s nice to see an effort like Phantom come along. Spare, streamlined and straight to the point, it chronicles the fate of a Soviet submarine crew tasked with transporting a deadly nuclear missile during the Cold War, and the dangerous KGB stowaway who will stop at nothing to gain control of the ship and hijack the warhead. Now, this is one of those films set in Russia but with an all American, English speaking cast, so as long as you can get past that without whining, you’ll enjoy it. What a cast it is though!! Ed Harris brings grizzled nobility to the role of the captain, handpicked for this mission by unseen forces who know of his disgraced past and are betting on him to fail. David Duchovny has always had a bit of slimy, subversive danger to his aura, and he’s in full blown wrecking ball mode as the ruthless rogue agent bent on seizing the vessel and no doubt causing all kinds of global problems in the process. William Fichtner is a supporting standout (when is he not?) as Harris’s resilient second in command, and the crew is populated recognizable faces including Jason Beghe, Jonathan Schaech, Dagmara Dominzyck, Kip Pardee and Sean Patrick Flanery. Throw in an intense cameo from Lance Henriksen and you’ve got one hell of a lineup of heavy hitters onscreen. The intrigue is somewhat cloaked, and the mutiny goes both ways, accented by plenty of palm sweating scenes of suspense, a mandatory staple in any submarine film. Lower budget, yes, but centered on story and character as opposed to action, and notable for a surprisingly esoteric end sequence that I did not expect. Recommended.