Alien Nation

Alien Nation (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Featurette, Behind-the-scenes, Bonus Trailers

’Alien Nation’ is a competent sci-fi/action film that flirts with being a great movie. The film is set in the not-too-distant future, where a group of extraterrestrials have migrated to Earth and made their homes in and around Los Angeles. The aliens are referred to as ’newcomers’ or ’slags’ and they vaguely resemble humans, except for their bald heads, two hearts, and their ability to get drunk on sour milk. As the film opens, police detective Matthew Sykes (James Caan) sees his partner murdered by a gang of newcomers. Sykes then volunteers to be teamed with newcomer detective San Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) (whom Sykes quickly dubs ’George’), and they begin to investigate the murder. From this point, the film diverges into two distinct, yet intertwined storylines; Sykes and Francisco follow the clues from the murder to a corporate kingpin, meanwhile, we watch the two characters overcome their prejudices and learn about one-another’s worlds.

’Alien Nation’ is simply a buddy-cop movie, but one of the the cops just happens to be from outer space. The film is actually no different from other films of the genre, such as ’The Corruptor’, in which an outsider learns about a foreign world. Director Graham Baker keeps the film moving along at a nice pace, and at 90 minutes, ’Alien Nation’ doesn’t wear out its welcome. The movie is exciting in the right places and has several humorous scenes. However, while the material is always good, it never quite reaches the level of ’great’. The story contains several details which pop up later in the film, and some of the twists are quite clever, but the ending is telegraphed and comes off as very anti-climatic.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has done a nice job with the packaging of ’Alien Nation.’ The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen and is letterboxed at 2.35:1. The crisp transfer belies the film’s age, and there is nary a speck of dirt, nor a noticable amount of grain to be seen. As most of the film takes place at night, the blacks come across as rich and true, giving the image a great sense of depth. The Dolby Digital 4.0 audio mix is also quite impressive, as it offers a better soundfield than some 5.1 tracks that I’ve heard. There is a generous use of surround sound and the dialogue is always crisp and clear. Also, there was a substantial amount of subwoofer action as well.

The ’Alien Nation’ DVD contains a seven-minute featurette which offers some cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, but is mostly dominated by clips from the film. Also, it gives away the ending. We also have three-and-a-half minutes of behind-the-scenes footage which shows actor James Caan consulting with director Graham Baker for two different scenes. The trailer for the film is presented in full-frame, as are three TV spots. Also, it’s nice to see that Fox has jumped on the ’bonus trailer’ bandwagon, as this DVD offers trailers for other science-fiction releases.