Alien Nation (1988) Poster


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Ahead Of It's Time...
jcdugger27 June 2006
Many people have the wrong impression of this movie. Most group it in within the "cop/buddy" genre and cheesy sci-fi. But "Alien Nation" is much more than that. In fact, it was way ahead of it's time.

I saw this movie in a dimly-lit, run-down Detroit-area theater at the age 14, an afternoon in the fall of 1988. I recall how the "atmosphere" of the movie matched that of the run-down theater I was sitting in. At 14, and with the title of "Alien Nation", a young kid like myself wanted to see weird alien creatures and lots of action. At the time, I was disappointed. This movie is about story, not action or weird aliens. Although I didn't really understand nor enjoy the movie at the time, it always stuck with me for some reason. So, nearly 18 years after seeing it on the silver screen, I re-watched it at home and was amazed by the depth of the story and the grittiness of the background. It was little wonder why I didn't like it at 14, but loved it at 32.

This story is really about race and immigration, with the hated race being alien immigrants. It shows how hatred and ignorance over race can transform one's personality, like the lead character played by James Caan.

Alien Nation asks questions about ourselves as humans. How would we react if aliens landed on Earth and announced they were escaping a brutal planet full of slavery and have immigrated to Earth? Would we accept them as our own, or would we force them to become outcasts? Would we allow an "Affirmative Action" scenario in regards to Aliens and Alien rights? Would we offer them high-paying jobs and/or top-notch education, depriving humans of those same jobs and quality education in exchange? To me, Alien Nation is one of the more possible (and perhaps likely) scenarios. Aliens delegated to run-down areas of big cities. Token jobs occasionally handed out because it's forced by the Government to do so. And a general disgust towards Aliens amongst the human population. In that regard, this movie was way ahead of the curve.

Great movie. 9 out of 10 stars. Recommended for those over 25, perhaps those with a higher intellect than most. Not recommended for someone looking for a "Men In Black" type of Alien movie. Not your typical Hollywood blockbuster filled with Aliens, that's for sure.


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Well made Sci-Fi
Lt_Coffey_18219 October 2005
Alien Nation is a cross over between Sci-Fi and the 'buddy cop' genre. What separates this from the usual buddy film is that instead of the difference being ethnic/class/gender, it is human (James Caan) and alien (Mandy Patinkin).

The clichéd beginning with the main character's partner being killed is done very well with stylish gunplay and set pieces. Caan really shines in the action scenes and it is great to see him in such a tough guy role. Caan is a great actor and can do more than macho as he shows in the scenes involving his daughter when Caan displays remorse, making the audience feel more sympathetic towards him. Caan aside, the cast is fairly mediocre, full of average actors except Terrence Stamp who puts on a good show as the bad guy.

Something I loved about this film is how similar everything is to The Terminator. This is due to the film being produced by Gale Ann Hurd and there being other members of the Terminator crew present. Like Terminator, Alien Nation greatly benefits from the dark, murky feel of the environment, giving it an edge over a lot of Sci-Fi films which suffer from being too 'shiny'.

The film does a great job at exploring racism, giving the impression of time repeating itself regarding the Western civilisations treatment of blacks when they were forced in to the country. Caan's conversion from despising the "Newcomers" to accepting them is admirable and convincing. It is not an overnight change and it is done discretely, very convincing.

As with a lot of escapism films, you can not take Alien Nation too seriously so it is best to approach this film with an open mind and desire to be entertained rather than wishing to be introspective. A very well made, enjoyable film.
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Alien Politics
dee.reid8 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
In 1991, three years have passed since a huge spaceship crash landed on Earth, dumping over a thousand humanoid beings into our already rapidly expanding population. These "Newcomers", which is what we have come to know them as, were genetically-engineered for the specific purpose of slave labor. Soon afterwards, they are put into quarantine. The newcomers have almost all the physical features of human beings except for a few. They have no hair on their heads, the males can become pregnant and they have two hearts instead of one. When released, they are then integrated into our society. They are given names of famous places or important historical figures like San(m) Francisco or Ronald Reagan. This integration into our society however, opens the door for a new kind of racism. Racial slurs like "slags" are uttered behind their backs. Perhaps for the first time minorities are going to be looked upon from a different perspective. Human beings begin to fear for their jobs as the newcomers start to take over people's employment opportunities. It isn't long before they are being featured advertisements too. Much as Chinatowns have formed in major cities around the world, the newcomers are given their own "Slag Town". Even as the newcomers start to become a big part of our society, this also opens the door for extraterrestrial crime. This in turn, introduces us to human cop, Detective Matthew Sykes(James Caan). Sykes, who has a slight distrust towards newcomers, becomes even more hateful of them one night after getting into a shoot-out with two newcomers, which leaves his partner dead and him thirsty for revenge. Matthew then sees his chance for revenge the next day, when he is assigned to be partnered up with Detective Sam Francisco(Mandy Patinkin, who is only recognizable by his voice and a few facial features). Francisco has recently been promoted and in turn has set a milestone for newcomers and the history books as becoming the first humanoid detective. Sykes who refuses to introduce Francisco as Francisco, gives him the nickname "George". Sykes is naturally hateful towards Francisco, but as time goes on he soon begins to accept him for who/what he is. As their investigation goes on, it leads them to the center of an extraterrestrial drug ring, headed by a shady newcomer named William Harcourt(Terence Stamp). The drug, known to the newcomers as "Jabluka" but better off known to us as liquid detergent, is a very potent narcotic. As George says "it's more potent than any human drug." He is right about that.

The drug, when taken in large quantities, can trigger a change in the newcomers, a change that is best kept secret. This is why George becomes so eager to see the drug destroyed before its presence is known to the human population.

"Alien Nation" is such a unique piece of science-fiction that had the potential to be something really spectacular. It really bugs me that this movie had the chance to be something so amazing, so new, that it instead became a standard buddy flick with some sci-fi stuff thrown in it. James Caan and Mandy Patinkin make a good team and Terence Stamp is good to as the evil Harcourt.

I believe that even though this movie is basically failed potential, I have gotten the bizarre social message hidden within it. It contains a message about how amazingly fast the newcomers have become a major part of our society. It amazes me that William Harcourt, although he is the bad guy in this movie, he is also extremely well educated. It's pure genius that he is able to use his high social status amongst the humans as a means of becoming a well known drug dealer. Human drug dealers probably would not need to envy or want to kill Harcourt, since they could find equal business opportunities in both their own communities as well as the newcomer community. The story also tells about the competition of aliens over humans. For millions of years, humans have been the dominant species on Earth. Now with the arrival of the newcomers, humans for the first time ever, are facing competition with a species that becomes more and more advanced every day. This explains largely in part as to why we are becoming more afraid of them, for fear of not only our jobs, but our place as the dominant species of our own planet. It won't be long before the newcomers become involved in human politics and then there may soon enough be a humanoid president. With this in mind, it is possible that not far down the road, that the newcomers could enslave us, as they were back on their own planet.

In some ways, the origin of the newcomers and their position in our society, reminds me of the history of African-Americans. Being African-American myself, the story reminds me largely of the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's. African-Americans, as well as any other minority group, have faced about as much discrimination as one could take. The racism that has been associated with the newcomers is almost exactly like what happened when minorities began taking up jobs that whites had been vying for.

Do you see what I mean? "Alien Nation" could have tackled so many social issues dead-on and would be a classic by now. Even with these faults, I enjoyed myself while watching this and I will try not to hold them against the movie.

I give "Alien Nation" an 8/10.
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Premise more interesting than plot
smatysia29 January 2000
This is like a lot of movies where the premise is more interesting than the plot. The arrival of the "Newcomers" seems to be a metaphor for the immigrant experience in America, but this is not followed up. It goes from a sci-fi movie into a cop-buddy movie, and it's really not bad on that level. It seems, however that the filmmakers passed on an opportunity to make a really significant commentary. One wishes for the film that got away.
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Not half bad
zetes27 April 2001
Considering that it is little more than your standard cop buddy movie, the slight variation being that the buddies are a tough seen-it-all cop and a by-the-books rookie who is an alien, Alien Nation ends up being a pretty good film. You can give a lot of credit to James Caan and Mandy Patankin for that. They have great chemistry as the partners. Both are very accomplished actors, and they make a very cliched script into something well worth watching. 7/10
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Decent science fiction
hatesdragons3 June 2001
This is the film that inspired the excellent television show and the many specials that followed its cancellation. This film has good performances by James Cann and mandy Patinkin, that elevate it above the norm. It is a combination buddy film, crime drama and science fiction story. Surprisingly it comes together very well. This film is not the best of the genre, some of the television shows surpass it, yet it worth a watch.
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"Don't take it personally. I'm a bigot."
utgard1430 August 2014
Tough cop (James Caan) hates aliens, even more so after his partner is killed by one. His new partner, wouldn't you know it, is also an alien (Mandy Patinkin). In trying to track down the killer of Caan's former partner, the two uncover a larger conspiracy.

Had this movie been made in the '50s or '60s, it would have been pretty strong. But by 1988 was it really necessary to do a movie dealing with race relations by using aliens as a metaphor? Rockne S. O'Bannon's unchallenging script hits on all the familiar racial conflict themes that had been played out long before this was released in many, many movies. If you take the racial component out of it, you're left with a by-the-numbers odd couple/buddy cop drama. Enjoyable enough, thanks to the likable performances of Caan and Patinkin, but it's still routine stuff.
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An interesting film.
Paul Andrews28 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Alien Nation is set in Los Angeles several years after we make contact with a genetically engineered race of slave aliens whose spaceship has landed in the Mojave desert during 1989 & cannot take off again, these humanoid shaped aliens known as Newcomers are given the same rights as any human being & start to live & form a community in Los Angeles alongside us humans. Detective Sergeant Matthew Sykes (James Caan) & his partner Detective Bill Tuggle (Roger Aaron Brwon) stumble upon an armed robbery involving several Newcomers, during a shoot-out Tuggle is shot dead by a Newcomer. Determined to find his partner's killer Sykes volunteers to partner the first Newcomer (Mandy Patinkin) to make detective & use him for his own vendetta. However the situation becomes critical when the mismatched duo discover a prominent Newcomer named William Harcourt (Terence Stamp) making & selling a dangerous drug that is as addictive to Newcomers as Heroin is to us...

Directed by Graham Baker this is an odd film that on the one hand is so clichéd it's untrue but on the other feels like no other film I have ever seen. The script by Rockne S. O'Bannon at first glance would pass for a generic Lethal Weapon (1987) or any other buddy buddy cop film rip-off, the two films are incredibly similar including the mismatched partner's (one of whom gives the 'we ain't pal's or friends' line to begin with), the plot revolving around drugs is almost identical to Lethal Weapon, there's a car chase at the end, the final bad guy confrontation, the two partner's using their unique styles to question suspects, the fact that one hates the other at first but then grow's a mutual respect for them by the end & if you take away the sci-fi alien aspect of Alien Nation then the two films are virtually identical. However what saves Alien nation is that sci-fi element, in Lethal Weaopn there were racial tensions because of differing ethnicity but here in Alien Nation the idea is taken to the absolute limit as having two cops teamed up who aren't even members of the same species! This is where most of the interest in Alien Nation comes from, there are some really good character driven scenes including Sykes trying to tell a joke to his partner or explain what a condom is for instance while his Newcomer partner tries to present his people's side of the situation. This angle of the film isn't as deep or throughly explored as it might have been but that's another reason I like Alien Nation, all the obvious allergies to racial hatred & tension aren't too heavy handed, too forced, preachy or totally drown out the thriller aspects of the film.

Director Baker does an OK job here, he keeps things moving along at a decent pace although I'd have liked a bit more sci-fi in it. I mean the film isn't even set in the future & as such it has dated a little bit. There's a pretty cool car chase at the end & a couple of good shoot-outs but the appearance of an alien monster at the end felt a little out of odds with the rest of it. The alien make-up is OK if a little unimaginative, they just look like bald people with a mottled pattern on their scalps. I am not sure about this but apparently there are two versions of Alien Nation floating around, one with subtitles for when the Newcomers speak in their own language & one without the subtitles. I saw the version without subtitles & it did get quite annoying not understanding what they were saying to each other. The original musical score for Alien Nation composed by Oscar winner Jerry Goldsmith was rejected in post production for being 'too weird' even though it was complete to be replaced by the Curt Sobel soundtrack now heard on the final edit.

With a supposed budget of about $16,000,000 Alien Nation didn't have a huge budget but it does look good with good production values, special effects & Los Angeles location filming. The acting is good especially from James Caan who is great in this (did he have his gas cut off in the end?) while Terence Stamp is unrecognisable under all the make-up.

Alien Nation is an odd film since it is so clichéd & by the numbers except the alien angle which really does transform it from an average buddy buddy cop film to a throughly decent sci-fi thriller. Followed by the Alien Nation (1989) TV series which ran for twenty three episodes & the made-for-TV film Alien Nation (1989) before another five made-for-TV films including Alien Nation: Dark Horizon (1994), Alien Nation: Body and Soul (1995), Alien Nation: Millennium (1996), Alien Nation: The Enemy Within (1996) & finally Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy (1997) seem to have rounded things off.
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lordzedd-318 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I must admit the whole racist thing again an alien species does get on the annoying side at times, but this is more then a science fiction, it's a rare Sci-Fi buddy picture. A missed match pair who hate each other but find a common ground to fight for. I must admit I didn't recognize Terrence Stamp in this movie, I thought the voice sounded familiar but didn't see it under all that make up. The make up effects were excellent and if that alien ship wasn't real I pat the back of whoever created it. ALIEN NATION is a modern classic and everyone should see it. It's a buried treasure for younger kids and I think they should watch it. I mean teens that were too young in 1988 to watch it. But now are old enough to enough it. That's ALIEN NATION and I'm giving it...9 STARS.
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Underrated film from the 80s'
Agent1010 August 2006
While the eighties was rife with weird sci-fi films and epic films, a simple and biting film about alien visitation made a nice little landing in 1988. Alien Nation was one of those films that expertly grasped the the sci-fi/mystery sub genre with a decent story and good visuals.

The casting in the film was rather perfect, with the subdued Mandy Patinkin playing Francisco while the normally hotheaded James Caan got his licks as a racist cop named Sykes. Either way, their polar opposites worked perfectly in the film, showing a growing bond between the two as they shook off their differences and made a rather capable team. What I especially liked was how each player sincerely became their character, which is something that is pretty rare in many sci-fi films. While I do wish the movie was a little longer and put some more scenes of George integrating into his new position at the beginning, the film was good as it was.

Alien Nation proved to be one of the last good non-CGI sci-fi films. While Gattica is one of the few films that followed this ideal, at least we can look back at the genre before it became nothing more than an excuse to show off pretty effects.
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