Alien Nation (1988) – Graham Baker

Before District 9, Earth took in the Newcomers, and as they attempted to fit into our society, despite racism, prejudice, and simple confusion in customs, a pair of cops, one human, one newcomer, try to work together.

This one is the next stop in the Sci-Fi Chronicles as I spend some more time with James Cameron, who had his hand in an earlier version of the script. The film’s final screenplay is credited to Rockne S. O’Bannon, a much-loved name in sci-fi (Farscape!!).

After years of segregation, The Newcomers are slowly being integrated with the rest of the world, and humanity must deal with sharing their planet. Not easy for everyone, and less so for Sykes (James Caan) a cop who has just been paired up with Newcomer, Samuel ‘George’ Francisco (Mandy Patinkin).

There is a political undertone to the film that is still relevant today, as we deal with racism, and refugees. Interwoven around it is a case that pulls Sykes and Francisco into a wary trust, and a revelation about the Newcomers.

The film is gritty, dirty, and tautly paced, and I found myself really enjoying it (I hadn’t seen it in years).

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Sykes is fairly racist from the get-go with the aliens, but when his partner is killed in a shootout, you can bet he won’t be happy to be assigned George as his new partner. As they dig deeper they find a drug that the Newcomers are using and as they begin to tug at threads they discover a trail leading to the alien, William Harcourt (Terence Stamp).

As Sykes learns the Newcomer secrets he realises that not everything is as humanity has believed, and that there is a dark undercurrent at work amongst the aliens that threatens them, and by extension the humans they now share the planet with.

There is very much a buddy-cop feel to the movie, obviously with a sci-fi twist, but the political themes running under it are very familiar, and are troubling in their resemblance to the modern world.

Terence Stamp, sadly, doesn’t get a lot of screen time in the film, so he isn’t much more than a stereotype of a white collar villain (even if he is an alien).

I quite enjoyed revisiting this one, and you can see a lot of O’Bannon’s future projects here in this one film. The downside to this film is that it barely runs an hour and a half and occasionally feels disjointed because it was trimmed down, excessively from a longer runtime – and that’s too bad, I think a longer film may have added some more depth to the film and highlighted the refugee and immigrant storylines a little better.

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