Review by Cole Groth
The storming of Area 51 was one of the more surreal events of 2019. Based on a joke, millions of people signed up to storm a military base in Nevada known for its large number of UFO sitings. For a few weeks in September of that year, it became an internet phenomenon, but when it finally came time to meet up, those millions of people turned into a few hundred. This disappointing turn of events makes up the inspiration for Dreamland: A Storming Area 51 Story, a documentary that takes itself about as seriously as the event itself.
Directed, written by, and starring comedian Brian Moreno, this film follows Moreno and a goofy crew as they attempt to document the admittedly disappointing event. From the get-go, it's hard to tell if the documentary is supposed to be funny, if it's supposed to be a parody, or if it's just bad. This question remained in my brain throughout the movie and wasn't clarified by the end. It at first seems like Moreno is just inserting his style of humor into the actual events he's documenting, but there are moments later when it seems like a complete mockumentary. Many crew members openly talk trash about the filming process going wrong, which is darkly hilarious but tonally confusing. There needed to be a more smooth bland of the mockumentary style of filmmaking and the actual documentary filmmaking because it covers a real-life event. Even if the audience can accept that it's a mockumentary, it's confusing when Moreno decides to dedicate nearly thirty minutes of the 85-minute runtime to interviewing some of the zany personalities surrounding the Storm Area 51 event. Instead of evenly working this throughout, he slaps it all in toward the ending, which seems lazy.
Even if these interviews seem poorly placed, they are both funny and interesting enough to be consistently entertaining. Watching these wild-looking people provide their best theories on what extraterrestrial life might look like is fascinating, but even more so when their theories seem somewhat sane. Moreno didn't find these people to mock them for their ideas; instead, he presented them respectfully, which ended up seeming like a very kind gesture when most other filmmakers would take their time to paint them in a negative light. However, these segments are missing some very important graphics. News footage is scattered throughout the film, but it would've been nicer if there were personalized graphics for the theories that these people were presenting rather than segments from the Joe Rogan Experience. The graphics eventually chosen for the film boil it down into a mish-mash of interesting ideas and poor execution that's ultimately too uneven to be fully enjoyable. It feels like a long YouTube documentary that's fairly interesting but stretched out to be full-length. If more time were taken in the editing room to keep only the best moments, it would've been a really solid 45-minute documentary.
One of the film's best moments comes toward the end when Moreno decides to have a good time at the festivals that ended up taking place near Area 51. Instead of keeping his rather obnoxious on-screen personality, he becomes a much more down-to-earth leading man and embraces the actual moment he's celebrating. He's an admirable choice to direct and lead this film because it actually seems like he learned something himself by the end. Dreamland struggles in many filmmaking aspects, but with a film about real-life subjects, it certainly has enough personality to keep it going to the finish line. Don't expect anything riveting, but if you're a fan of weird moments in modern history, this documentary satisfies.
Dreamland: A Storming Area 51 Story beams into theaters, video on demand, and digital on September 13.