Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection
This is not really the ULTIMATE movie collection since that would seem to indicate that it actually includes the original theatrical MOVIE Alien Nation itself, which it does not. It’s also not a collection of episodes from the very short lived FOX-TV spin off either. What you get here are the 5 TV movies produced by Fox following the cancellation of the series. So, perhaps we should call it the Ultimate TV Movie Collection. That would be more accurate.
Alien Nation, the 1988 feature film, was script-doctored by none other than James Cameron. They must’ve caught him on a bad day because outside of the interesting premise, the script itself was xeroxed from every other buddy cop film that plagued the decade. The “original” concept by Farscape creator Rockne S. O’ Bannon was a twist on Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night, only with aliens instead of black people. You take a racist cop and partner him with the object of his hate on a murder case and just watch the sparks fly until they find that they’re really not so different from each other after all. Cue the Lee Greenwood track. James Cameron's gotta eat too, I guess.
The movie was mediocre and forgettable because it just clung to the high concept without actually thinking through all the interesting and complex developments of that concept; here’s where the TV series improved on the original idea. By bringing in Kenneth Johnson to write, direct and produce the series, Fox did the smartest thing they could for the show. Johnson was the ‘70s mastermind behind pulp fantasy classics like Bionic Woman,The Incredible Hulk, and V. All of those shows placed a strong emphasis on characterization and theme over the pop plots that were central to their great success. V was a thinly veiled look at a fascist takeover of the United States with direct parallels to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. None of that ever got so preachy as to challenge Rod Serling for the throne of soapbox Sci-fi. Johnson was just the man to develop a show about alien immigrants who try to integrate into America’s social, political and cultural society. While not exactly a masterpiece, the TV Alien Nation was a significant improvement over the shallow original.
But what about the TV movies the followed? That’s what we get in this collection isn’t it? Well, they’re really dated but are still entertaining for their characters and stories.
Dark Horizon (1994) was produced first and it’s main responsibility was to tie up any and all loose ends from the cliffhanging end of the TV series. We’re once again thrust into a police drama as human Detective Matthew Sikes (Gary Graham) and his partner Tencton “newcomer” Detective George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint) deal with the bacterial infection created by human purists to rid the world of the Newcomers. George’s wife (Michelle Scarabelli) and daughter (Lauren Woodland) fall victim to the illness while he and Sikes also tangle with Ahpossno, a Tenctonion overseer played Scott Patterson of Gilmore Girls, who plans to enslave all surviving Tenctonese.
As a standalone movie, this one doesn’t work so well since so much of it depends on the events in the series that led up to it. It’s clear that the movie was intended to be a wrap up to the whole series. The following films are more individual though they still need to be watched in order to keep with the continuity. This is nothing like the experience of watching shows like Lost however, as each story is fairly self-contained.
Body and Soul (1995) chronicles the mystery of a human/Tenctonese child and an evil Overseer scientist with shades of Josef Mengele. The movie uses the series’ structure of running two stories in parallel with the second narrative involving the developing relationship between Sikes and his Tenctonese neighbor Dr. Cathy Frankel (Terri Treas). Body and Soul examines mixed race relations and genetic engineering effectively in both of it’s narratives. For Sex and the City fans, Kristen Davis appears here as Karina Tivoli.
Millenium (1996) examines the paranoia connected to the end of any century. Francisco’s son Buck (Sean Six) is drawn into a mysterious and dangerous cult that uses an ancient Tenctonese artifact to control thoughts.
The Enemy Within (1996) deals with prejudice within the Tenctonese as George confront his own hypocrisy while investigating the murder of an Eeno, a lowly and reviled caste of Tenctons.
The Udara Legacy (1997) was co-wrtten by the writer of the original movie, Rockne S. O’Bannon. It’s a twist on The Manchurian Candidate and Don Siegel’s Telefon in which certain Tenctonese slaves, part of a resistance movement called the Udara, were planted with hytnotic suggestions to act as sleeper agents when called upon. There are lots of tilted angles with aliens becoming robotic assassins like Reggie Jackson in The Naked Gun. “I must KILL...the QUEEN.”
All five movies have a quaint look to them now. Not exactly the campy vibe of the ‘60s Star Trek, but the overall look is the blandly lit style of mid-90s television. The effects do not hold up and there’s all kinds of gigantic cordless and cell phones being tossed about in the future now past. The “potato head” make-ups on the Tenctonese look like spray painted bald caps. But, none of this really matters since the stories and characters hold up in much the same way as Trek still does.
All five movies are presented in their original 1.33:1 full screen TV aspect ratio on three discs. Dark Horizon gets its own single sided disc while the 4 others share sides on two discs. There is an error in the labeling of disc three which says that The Enemy Within plays on side A, while The Udara Legacy is on side B. In actuality, this is the other way around. So, watch side B before side A. Got it?
All the movies feature photo galleries and an audio commentary track by show‘s auteur Kenneth Johnson. He is on the track alone but there’s not a dull moment. Johnson obviously loves the show and his enthusiasm is contagious as he provides lots of interesting tidbits about cranking out low budget TV.
Each movie is given a “Making of” featurette which is made up of home video footage shot on the set at the time of production with what looks to be a VHS or HI-8mm analog camera. The imaqes are very low-fi and have the attention span of your Uncle Bob shooting your cousin’s birthday party. Very Dogma-esque. All five of the featurettes are narrated by Kenneth Johnson who is all over this collection but is of such a good nature his presence never grates. Johnson seems to remember everything and everyone connected to these productions and can whip an anecdote out about any random figure who appears on screen. It’s info overload but lots off fun.
The final extra in the collection appears on side A of the third disc accompying the last movie produced, The Udara Legacy and it’s probably the one that will interest most fans. “A Family Gathering-A Retrospective” is just the kind of friendly and warm recollection from the entire cast and some of the crew today that you would expect from Kenneth Johnson. Everyone has food and drinks at Johnson’s home and sits in his living room talking about their memories working on the show. It’s obvious that everyone actually likes each other and that the show was a very important moment in their lives. This is the collection’s cherry on top.
I’m not sure if these movies will attract any NEW fans to the show but it’s a great gift for those already converted. And as for not including the original movie, that’s just as well since it would probably be the worst of the bunch.
Reviewed By: Brian Holcomb