DVD Review: Alien Nation: The Ultimate Movie Collection

In 1988, a cool and different little genre film premiered called Alien Nation this movie which sprang from the mind of Rockne S. O’Bannon told the story of how an immense group of alien slaves (over 250,000) found themselves stranded on Earth and had now been incorporated into our society. The movie starred James Caan as Detective Matt Sykes and Mandy Patinkin as his alien partner, George Francisco, and it’s nice and different take on the cop/buddy film but with a genre twist.

The movie as a pretty moderate success and in 1989, a fledgling FOX TV network took the movie and had it modified to be a weekly series (and if memory serves, it ran on Monday nights). The series was spearheaded by producer/writer/director Kenneth Johnson who, like Rockne O’Bannon, comes with an impressive genre pedigree (O’Bannon was also a big contributer to the 80s revival of The Twilight Zone, but he’s far more famous for creating the world of Farscape). Kenneth Johnson was behind such TV hits as V and The Incredible Hulk and had worked on The Bionic Woman and The Six MIllion Dollar Man.

The series starred Gary Graham as Matthew Sykes (certainly far and away a different presence than James Caan) and Eric Pierpoint as George Francisco, and these guys were really a good team on the show, I actually preferred them over the theatrical version. And while science fiction shows have really progressed since this premiered, for the time that it was on, it was certainly something that really hadn’t been seen on TV before.

I used to watch the show regularly and I was disappointed that it was only cancelled after one season, but certainly give Fox credit for sticking with this at the time and obviously for bringing it back in a series of movies (and no, I’m not one of these guys who’s going to jump on an anti-FOX bandwagon because their genre series gets cancelled).

After the series was cancelled (and on a cliffhanger no less) FOX commissioned Johnson and company for a TV movie to let them wrap everything up, that movie Dark Horizon covered a number of things, another Tenctonese ship in space looking at Earth as the spot where 250,000 of their slave class had been misplaced, the danger that the settled Tenctonese were facing from a secret virus developed by a purist political group, and further development and near resolution of the relationship that was always being teased at between Sykes and a Tenctonese doctor named Kathy (played by Terri Treas). It’s a fun film, especially if you used to watch the show. I know when I watched this, it was literally the first time I’d even given Alien Nation any thought over the years, and I have to say, I had a very pleasant time re-living this again.

This was a success for FOX and the following year, another movie came out, Body And Soul, and with this film, we sort of drop back to an expanded TV episode, this one centering around a Tenctonese/Human hybrid…

In Millennium, George’s son, Buck, who’s displayed Tenctonese loyalist qualities throughout the run, gets drawn into a cult, with of course Sikes and Francisco out to uncover the secret.

In The Enemy Within, George has to confront a some of his own prejudices after investigating the death of a lower class of Tenctonese.

And in The Udara Legacy, we get a story involving how some of the Newcomers who’ve adjust well to their new world are now committing crimes and find out if there’s a connection to the Udara, a segment of the Tenctonese who’s committed themselves to overthrowing their Overseers.

I think your satisfaction with the movies themselves will just come from whether you’re a fan of the show, though there is enough here in these films to tell you the background and overall story without having seen the first season, these do all seem now almost a little too late 80s cop/buddy fare and a modern genre fan (who’s never seen any of these shows before) might see this stuff as almost a little hokey or corny compared to shows that they see now. Well, that’s your TV history for your… when the series was on, cable wasn’t yet the beast it was today, and FOX had yet to discover American Idol gold… and they were still trying all sorts of stuff to see what would hit. I think overall, these movies are some good fun, and if you were a fan of the show, then by all means, look at picking this set up, because FOX has done a real nice job with the set.

First off, they all look fantastic, far better than you ever saw them on broadcast. I was particularly taken by the visual effects around the Tenctonese slave ship in Dark Horizon and just how crisp it looked here. The presentation is full-frame so for you folks looking for anamorphic widescreen, this was made before that was going on.

Kenneth Johnson provides commentary for all five of the movies, and Johnson is just as sharp as can be when talking about these films. He’s willing to go into technical detail as well as a little bit of personal discussion. As much fun as the movies are themselves to watch, they’re even more fun to watch with Johnson’s commentary tracks and getting a glimpse into both his production style and what it takes to shoot a TV movie.

But there’s more… Each movie also features a making of featurette that’s not the slickly produced things that you see, no what you have here is literally home movies made around the shooting of each film. These are all shot by a woman on Johnson’s staff, and here Johnson provides commentary for these films. After I saw the first of these for Dark Horizon (which was about 20-25 minutes long), I’d really thought I’d gotten a nice little bonus here.

There’s also extensive photo galleries for each film, much of these from Kenneth Johnson’s on collection, and these were pretty cool with the added bonus of seeing photos from recent Alien Nation cast reunions, so you’ve got a chance to see what Gary Graham, Eric Pierpoint, and the rest of the cast look like now. I’m not usually that big on photo galleries on DVD sets, but for this set, well these just go beyond the normal studio publicity stills and as such are a great part of seeing some of the history and production of this show.

This set gets a big thumbs up here, though I recognize the fact that it still may not be for everybody. Genre fans that like the old show shouldn’t hesitate for a moment here. Genre fans who have a sense of perspective and an appreciation of what was in the past will probably like this as well. After that, it’s hard to say who will like the set, but I can at least tell you that I think it’s fantastic. Kudos to FOX for a job well done…

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

12. May 2008 by Darren Goodhart
Categories: Text Reviews, Theatrical Review | Leave a comment

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