US, 1988, 91 minutes, Colour.
James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp.
Directed by Graham Baker.
Alien Nation is basically a Los Angeles Police Department buddies film. However, it is set in the early '90s when an alien craft has landed in the U.S. and the aliens have become American citizens. James Caan is the somewhat bigoted hero who is paired with Mandy Patinkin as the first alien to reach detective rank.
The Los Angeles of the film is dark, often filmed at night, the world of such films as Blade Runner. However, the criminals are the new aliens, a slick and important businessman played by Terence Stamp.
There is a lot of shooting, the usual investigations, the two policemen gradually coming to understand each other.
While the convention is police drama, the film is also an allegory of contemporary Los Angeles and the American cities and the need for older Americans to accept the coming of the blacks and the Hispanics. In fact, the allegorical message is strongly highlighted. Direction is by Graham Barker, director of The Final Conflict: Omen 3. The alien make-up is done by the Stan Winston studios - Winston was the director of Pumpkinhead.
1. Interesting police story? Science fiction genre? The strong? Allegorical nature of the film?
2. The city of Los Angeles, recognizable yet different, the ugliness of the streets, the nature of society? The filming in the dark, black, grey and blue colours? The world of the aliens? The musical score, the songs?
3. Los Angeles and the aliens: the traditional members of society, the racial mix, negative attitudes, the place of the aliens? Their landing in 1988, the endorsement by Ronald Reagan (and spoof)? 1991 and assimilation, culture? The parallels with Los Angeles in the '70s and '80s? Bigotry, anger, exploitation, confrontation? The bonds between the two groups? Accepting differences?
4. The aliens and their make-up, language, physiology, danger of sea water, etc? Originally slaves, their spaceship coming to Earth, power held by the drug, designed to work? Settling, their intelligence and learning of languages? The production of the drugs, the exploitation by aliens, alien prostitutes? Possibilities of power? The police, the alien becoming the detective? A fact of the future?
5. James Caan as Sykes: tough, the L.A.P.D., shooting, his bond with his partner, the hold-ups, the chases, deaths? His anger, attitude towards the aliens, punching the detective, his grief for his partner? The separation of his wife, concern about his daughter, the forthcoming marriage?
6. George and the promotion, his talent, work as a partner, accepting of Sykes? The odd names given to the aliens, Sam Francisco? Toughness and style? His intelligence in the investigations? Making links? Clues? His travelling around Log Angeles - and the relaxation with Sykes, drinking the milk, etc? The murdered men, going to visit Harcourt and seeing him in society, the son of the dead shopper, the sex club, going to the morgue? The character of George, contract with Sykes?
7. The clues, the laboratory tests, the links, the confrontation with Harcourt, the shoot-out? The metamorphosis? The confrontation between Harcourt and Sykes, the sea water, the horror conventions for Harcourt's death? George saving Sykes, especially risking his arm in the sea?
8. Harcourt and his gang, their plan, the drugs, the production plant, his control, the murder of the partners, the brutal henchman and the drug, his death?
9. George's family and its ordinariness, becoming the American Pie family? Sykes and his daughter, going to the wedding, giving his daughter away, George and family at the wedding?
10. Scenes of urban violence and ugliness, the futuristic tone?
11. An enjoyable variation on the theme? Toughness and sentiment? Genre and conventions? The persuasiveness of the allegory?