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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 absolutely 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. Revolutionary questions. 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.
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.
*** This review may contain 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.
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
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.
This is a great movie, and has and great series to go with it. Also the
Social backdrop is cleverly handled and not to blatant, Concentrating
mainly on the stupidity of bigotry and showing it to be a product of
fear, its fun with plenty of action some of which is quite realistic,
without being gruesome. The movie also contains a little humour, some
quiet subtle, and is well paced. The only downside is you will want to
know what happened next.
it also works as a drama due to the nicely scripted family scenes, which are not to sugary. Obligatory bad guys, with wonderfully bad guy plans, and cop to cop jibes, which are not lame.
So if you like Sci-fi, drama and cop movies you will love this, the makeup is decent, and the 80's fashion is not overdone, so does not date the movie.
Also it has some real stars in it, see the IMDb site for the cast list.
I've always liked this film despite its flaws. It is an interesting
allegory of racial conflict, using a sci-fi premise and a "buddy-cop"
formula. You have the minority rookie cop assigned to the bigoted partner,
who are then assigned a case involving the minority group. The rookie
proves to the bigot that people are the same, despite their physical
differences and they slowly become friends.
Mandy Patinkin is great here, conveying the idea of an outsider who is not totally familiar with his new environment. James Caan is fine, but doesn't seem committed to the film, and his performance is a bit uneven. Terence Stamp is hurt by his makeup, as his face is one of his greatest strengths as an actor. Much of his characters come from his facial expressions and the makeup inhibits this.
The story is a bit cliched, but the sci-fi gloss keeps things from falling flat. The tv series was better able to explore the racial allegory, as the film just doesn't have enough screen time. The mystery component is pretty much standard fare. If you look beyond the surface of this film, there are some worthwhile ideas here. They just get a bit lost in the "cop" trappings.
The reason I liked the movie and hated all the subsequent tv stuff is the movie had James Caan. He is what I enjoyed most about the movie and he was not in any of the tv stuff as far as I know. The interplay between him and Patinkin was great. The movie revolves around aliens who are living on earth...Caan can't stand these aliens, and really takes to disliking them when his partner is killed by one. He volunteers to be the partner of one of the aliens so that he can use the alien to find out what and who was behind his partner's death. During this time being partnered with the alien Caan's character learns to actually like being around him and they end up becoming friends. This movie has good action and comedy as Caan's character tries to figure things out and learns about his alien friend's different weaknesses and strengths. Basically it is a buddy cop movie that has an alien teamed with a human.
Curiously enough, this movie is far inferior to the excellent television series it inspired, something you don't see very often. However, ALIEN NATION the film is enjoyable in its own right if you are not opposed to buddy cop movies. That's basically what this is, a buddy cop movie with some scifi stuff thrown in. The acting by Caan and Patinkin (a great actor) is good stuff, and probably saves the film from being below average. That, along with the original storyline and fairly well-crafted Newcomer/human society, holds the film up well enough in order for me to give it a 7. Not as good as the TV show, but not too bad either.
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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