Plot: What’s it about?
The streets of Los Angeles are filled with aliens from outer space and while the public knows this, not everyone is that pleased with their presence. The citizens seem to think it is unfair for a mentally superior species to take jobs from humans, but in truth, they simply fear that which is different. The aliens were former slaves that crash landed here and while some have taken bad turns, many have become productive members of society, in all walks of life. In fact, one of them has just been named the first detective from his species, an honor that belongs to Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin), an alien that worked as a police officer for some time now. This decision angers some officers, but one man, Matthew Sykes (James Caan) is more than willing to take him on as his new partner, but not for the typical reasons. His old partner was killed by aliens and in order to catch the killers, he needs to return to the streets as soon as he can, which this chance offers right off the bat. But the two have little in common and although some effort is made, the culture clash is often too much. Can these two officers put aside their differences and focus on the case, which seems to be getting more complex all the time?
This isn’t your typical science fiction movie, but then again, that is one of the main reasons I like it so much. All too often, we’re given sci/fi movies more geared toward fantasy and action, but more realistic efforts are few and far between. Although some would argue that the presence of aliens in Alien Nation is far from realistic, I think it is more believable than light swords and hideous space monsters. I do love those fantasy and action driven efforts, but I also like to have some options, so movies like Alien Nation are very welcome. This film has some fantastic elements tossed in, but is at heart a thriller with some buddy movie traits as well. This paints a very unique picture, as it is sort of like Lethal Weapon with aliens, good action sequences, but also some emotion to be discovered. The cast is led by James Caan and Mandy Patinkin, but also includes a terrific performance from Terence Stamp, under an alien guise. This is not everyone’s cup of tea I suppose, but fans of police flicks, buddy movies, and sci/fi pictures should give this one look, as it combines elements from those genres into a well balanced and enjoyable film.
It is unusual to see him work with aliens, but even under these strange circumstances, James Caan delivers a more than solid performance. Better known for his dramatic work and mafia roles, Caan works well here and seems natural within the character, right from the start. Although his character isn’t delved into much, Caan infuses him with emotion and conflict, which more than compensates for the lack of development from the written word. Even so, Caan is unable to show the range he has in some efforts, but he manages to more than bring his role to life, which is what counts. And plus, he was working with some strange costars, so I am more pleased with his turn in Alien Nation. Other films with Caan include The Godfather, Rollerball, Honeymoon In Vegas, Misery, Mickey Blue Eyes, and The Way of The Gun. The rest of the cast includes Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, True Colors), Kevyn Major Howard (Full Metal Jacket, Death Wish II), Leslie Bevis (The Opposite of Sex, Spaceballs), Peter Jason (Dreamscape, The Glimmer Man), and Terence Stamp (The Limey, Superman).
Video: How does it look?
Alien Nation is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I could be wrong, but I think this is the first widescreen treatment on home video for this film, which means this release is tops right off the start. I wasn’t expecting much over a nice transfer for this release, but man, Fox has issued a wonderful effort here, this is a real treat to view. The slight grain is not enough to lessen the experience, as the rest of the elements shine through and allow this movie to look radiant, the finest it has ever looked on home video. The colors seem bold and flawless, flesh tones look natural, and contrast is stark and well balanced also. Some minor issues lower the score somewhat, but this is still a fine presentation, especially for a flick from the late 80s.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio on this disc is above average, but just don’t expect a slam bang experience, more like a rich, effective one. The speakers won’t shake off the walls by any means, but the elements are well handled and the material sounds very good, no real complaints. The surrounds are used to good ends, very nice directional presence at times, like when Caan’s character fires the super charged gun and the like. The more subtle scenes also sound solid though, with well mixed musical presence and no dialogue issues to be concerned with. This disc also includes 2.0 surround tracks in English and French, as well as subtitles in Spanish and English.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main extras here are two featurettes, which are fun to watch, but run for a total of ten minutes. So while some cool stuff can be seen within them, neither is long enough to go very deep, which leaves you wanting more from the pieces. But it is nice to have them and in the end, they add a little value to the disc. You can also check out three television spots, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.