The First Battle of Area 51 was a major battle during the War of 1996. The battle was a significant turning point in humanity's war against the aliens in which their deflector shields were finally disabled, as American air forces led by President Thomas Whitmore successfully destroyed a City Destroyer over Area 51.
After David Levinson's plan to infiltrate the Mothership and upload the shield-disabling computer virus were underway, the Los Angeles City Destroyer shifted its course from San Diego to Area 51 likely due to the aliens having detected the facility's communications output. With not enough military pilots to man all available aircraft, volunteers including President Whitmore were enlisted for the counterattack.
Whitmore leads a group of Air Force and volunteered pilots in an aerial battle over the base. On the ground Constance Spano and Major Mitchell escorted refugees from the RV convoy into Area 51's underground research levels. The attack was almost called off when the virus doesn't seem to work and the City Destroyer's shields were still up. Determined not to give up, Whitmore fires another missile at the side of the City Destroyer--and this time, achieves a direct hit. Encouraged by this success, the pilots resume their attack, damaging the ship and taking out many of the aliens' smaller attackers that were deployed to do battle. But even without its shield, the City Destroyer was large and heavily armored, and the pilots start exhausting their missiles against the Destroyer and its large complement of attackers, without causing serious damage to the massive vessel. The Destroyer finally moved into position over Area 51 and prepares to arm its primary weapon at the base.
Aware that their only chance of victory was to destroy the Destroyer's cannon before it could fire, Whitmore fired his last missile at the priming weapon, but only for it to strike against one of the weapon's outer panels. A second pilot attempted to move into position for another attack, but was shot down before he could. With the attack's complement of missiles exhausted and the battle seemingly lost, General William Grey advised the surviving pilots to disengage to save themselves; Whitmore desperately pleaded if anyone has any missiles left, to which another pilot, Russell Casse, arrives to inform the President that he does, possessing the last remaining missile.
Whitmore and his wingmen escorted Casse to the main weapon, shooting down any alien attacker that get in the way. But as Casse locked on to the Destroyer's weapon, the firing mechanism jams. Russell then chose to sacrifice himself to save Area 51 by ramming his jet into the cannon. After leaving a message for his children, he flew his jet directly into the end of the cannon's spire while it was priming to fire. The resulting explosion caused a backfire that blows up the City Destroyer from the inside out and sending it to crash away from Area 51.
Soon after the destruction of the Destroyer, General Grey immediately passed news on the Destroyer's weakness to military forces throughout the world. Following on the Americans' victory, international forces brought down the remaining City Destroyers using the same method in destroying their main weapon, which is exceedingly helped with the destruction of the mothership due to the efforts of Levinson and Captain Steven Hiller.
Behind the Scenes
- To show the hundreds of fighters and attackers engaged in combat over the destroyer, the visual effects team created complex behavioral programming - commonplace today but innovative in the mid-1990's - to control entire fleets of fighters, how they interact, flew and were destroyed. By changing a few parameters, the digital artists could tip the balance one way or another as to who was "winning".
- The attack on the trailer park at Area 51 scene was achieved with the special effects crew setting off eighteen huge explosions on location in Utah while 25 stunt performers ran and dove between the erupting jeeps and trailers. In front of them, out of harm's way, 470 extras dashed from their mobile homes and stampeded towards the camera.
- Subsequent shots of Connie and Major Mitchell herding the civilians into the elevator were shot on set with a bluescreen back at the Hughes facility in California.
- To facilitate scenes of the battle underneath the destroyer, the model shop built a series of generic destroyed building miniatures that could be quickly arranged and shot against bluescreen and composited together with the approaching destroyer model. The sequence also uses a various set of visual effects techniques: classic miniatures are used for the background landscape and the alien destroyer, with several large-scale pyrotechnic explosions of fighter plane models added for realistic debris and interaction while digital techniques were used for the missile trails and alien attacker ships, along with the background (and sometimes foreground) aerial action.
- The fiery destruction of the destroyer was made with the fires and explosions being composited onto footage of the destroyer model using scores of filmed pyro elements.