Sunday, April 20, 2014

Alien Nation (1988)

Note:  This is another repost from Epinions.  This is why the first paragraph may seem a little dated.

Illegal immigration is a hot-button issue today.  Arizona passed a law making it legal for police to ask people for their papers.  (There’s talk of a similar law in Florida.)  There are several walls at the U.S.-Mexican border.  Immigration is on the minds of a lot of people.  There are lots of opinions and ideas on the topic.

How would you stop aliens from outer space?  Yes, the E.T., funny-looking, nanu-nanu, pointy-ear, little green kind.  In Alien Nation, Southern California had to deal with just that.  The movie was released in 1988, but set in in the 1990s.  An alien race called the Newcomers have landed on Earth and have no way to get back home.  Most were bred for slave labor and meant to survive in almost any environment.

Now, they have to assimilate to life on Earth.  They work, go to school, raise families and do everything that humans do.  They just look very different from us.  They have larger heads, no hair and spots all over their heads.  They’re also much stronger and smarter than humans.

The movie starts with two detectives, Bill Tuggle (Roger Aaron Brown) and Matt Sykes (James Caan), responding to a robbery of a convenience store.   Two Newcomers shoot and kill the guy running the store, then turn on the detectives and kill Tuggle before they get away.  Sykes didn’t like Newcomers to begin with.  Now he really hates them and wants revenge.  Sykes has been told not to investigate Tuggle’s death, but has no plans on not looking into it.

When Newcomer police officer Samuel Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) is promoted to detective, Sykes volunteers to be his partner.  Sykes makes it clear that the only reason that he’s doing this is because he needs a connection to the Newcommer community.  Francisco will be able to talk to people that Sykes can’t.  Francisco will know things that Sykes doesn’t.  Their partnership isn’t any sort of act of goodwill.  He also tells his new partner that he’ll be calling him George since he can’t very well go around calling him Sam Francisco.

The two are an odd couple.  Sykes tends to be more street smart, willing to cut corners when necessary.  Francisco is more by the books, but not very knowledgeable about humans or the new society he’s in.  Together, they find out that there’s a lot more to Tuggle’s death than just the robbery.  A group of Newcomers are making a drug that was used on the ship to keep the slaves in line.  It’s very potent and very dangerous.  It could undermine everything that Newcomers have done on Earth.

The movie has a split personality about it.  On the one hand, it’s a movie about two good police officers trying to take down the bad guys.  On the other hand, it’s a movie about culture clash.  Sykes is a racist and Francisco is the target of his prejudice.  The two of them have a lot to learn about the other.

Much of the movie deals with Sykes coming to terms with Newcomers and with Francisco learning about humans.  In one scene, Sykes has to explain to Francisco what a condom is.  (Francisco is amazed that it actually does what Sykes claims.)  Also, many of the Newcomers have weird names, which is something Sykes asks Francisco about.  (One of the other main characters is called Rudyard Kipling.)  Francisco points out that in his language, Sykes translates roughly as “excrement cranium.”

It ended up being a very good movie.  Yes, I am a bit biased towards science-fiction movies, but it was well paced.  It’s also interesting to think how our society would react to a shipload of aliens landing on Earth with no way off the planet.  Even though the difference is obvious, deporting them really isn’t an option.  (This really isn’t addressed in the movie.)

It’s not really the kind of movie I’d buy, but I do watch it when it comes on TV.  Even if you’re not a fan of sci-fi movies, it’s still possible to watch this movie.  While it does deal with societal issues, it doesn’t really beat you over the head with the aliens being from another world.  At worst, you get to see them drink sour milk, which is like beer to them.

IMDb page

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