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Film / Alien Nation

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Alien Nation is a 1988 Neo-Noir Science Fiction film, written by Rockne S. O'Bannon (Farscape, SeaQuest DSV, Defiance) and starring James Caan and Mandy Patinkin.

It's essentially a Buddy Cop movie with a Sitcom twist: the minority partner is a space alien, part of a race of "Newcomers" who ended up on Earth when the slave ship they were being transported on crash-landed. After Det. Matthew Sykes' (Caan) partner is killed in a shootout, he is partnered with Sam Francisco (Patinkin), the first Newcomer detective (whom he insists on calling "George"). While investigating the death of Sykes' partner, they uncover a dangerous Newcomer drug.

The film was adapted into the 1989 TV series Alien Nation, which lasted for one season and five TV movies. Also the film had a Comic-Book Adaptation and various Spin-Off made by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers of Men in Black fame.

As of 2015, a planned reboot of the film has been announced, but few details are known.

No, it's not related to the Alien saga, even if it is from 20th Century Fox.

Provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Released in 1988, it takes place in 1991.
  • Adaptive Ability: The Newcomers were a slave race bred to adapt to any environment; Earth is a tough one for them, though...
  • Alien Among Us: The Tenctonese/Newcomers are refugees and slaves. In this case it was over 250,000 aliens, who form their own community in Los Angeles. Therefore the cultural misunderstandings went both ways, as humans learned to deal with odd Newcomer traditions.
  • Alien Catnip: The Newcomers get drunk on sour milk. Alcohol has no effect on them. The aliens' own narcotic in turn tastes like dish cleaner fluid to humans, and looks about the same.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: A lot of their oddball abilities get used in various mundane ways.
  • Balls of Steel: Sykes groin-kicks an alien, who laughs it off. Later, George tells him that he'll get the result he was looking for by hitting an alien in the side of the torso. Sykes tries this out later, and it proves as effective as a groin shot. Inverted in one of the later TV movies - one of the alien overseers comes to Earth to locate their lost slaves and encounters a human. Police later notice that the human died due to massive repeated blows to the side of the torso - George realizes that it was by someone who was trying to subdue a human in the same manner as one would a Tenctonese and failing.
  • Berserk Button: When George finds out a certain Fantastic Drug is involved, he goes into full Cowboy Cop Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! mode because there no way in Hell he's going to allow that drug to resurface, ever.
  • Big Bad: William Harcourt.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Saltwater burns Newcomers, they also require any meats they consume to be raw, can get drunk on sour milk, require a member of their third sex to catalyze pregnancy (though that isn't revealed til The Series), and have a nerve cluster under their arm that has the same effect on them as a Groin Attack.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Sykes's black partner dies in the opening.
  • Boldly Coming: Skyke's first partner reveals he's actually had sex with a Tectonese hooker.
  • Brake Angrily: As befitting a cop show, this is sometimes done by George and his partner.
  • Buddy Cop Show: One is an alien immigrant, the other is a Cowboy Cop. They fight crime!
  • Bulletproof Vest: Subverted- Sykes' partner has one, but leaves it in the trunk of their car. As such, it doesn't help at all during the armed robbery. When Sykes switches his standard 9mm pistol out for a .454 Casull revolver, he tests his new weapon out on a vest, completely obliterating it.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Played with: bullets pierce all the way through a car (and the guy hiding behind it), but are revealed to be special, industrial-strength Dakka.
  • Cool Guns: One of the first film appearances of the Freedom Arms .454 Casull Magnum, at that time, the world's most powerful handgun.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Harcourt.
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: At the beginning of the movie, police officers Matthew Sikes and his partner try to stop an armed robbery. They have pistols, while one of the robbers has a rotary shotgun that fires armor-piercing slugs. It's used to kill Sikes' partner by shooting him through a car.
  • Dead Partner: Bill Tuggle was killed in the movie and series. It was actually by a fellow cop.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Sykes is almost the victim of a Newcomer beatdown because he didn't think through how the Newcomer Trent Porter would react to his aggressive questioning or his ineffective kick to the Newcomer's groin.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Like Coneheads, Alien Nation is a parable for the immigrant experience.
  • Drugs Are Bad:
    • The Newcomers' former alien overlords kept them under control by feeding them a blue substance. Sam/George Francisco keeps this a secret from his human buddy-cop partner because he fears what humanity would do to the Newcomers if we ever found out they were a bunch of drug addicts. Near the end of the movie, a rogue Newcomer consumes an entire giant tube full of the concentrated drug and turns into a mutated rampaging monster. This worries George even more as he fears what would happen if humans were to learn that overdoses of the alien drug would cause these mutatations.
    • A second atmospheric drug was apparently used as well in order to prevent rebellion.
  • Drunk on Milk: The Newcomers, literally - spoiled milk to them acts like alcohol does on humans.
  • Exploited Immunity: A Newcomer drug lord has his human henchmen pull another Newcomer into the ocean to kill him.
  • Fantastic Drug: The drug that was used to pacify Newcomers, and an overdose causes them to turn into a monster. The Big Bad tells Sykes that even though it's "more powerful than any human drug", it's still just an alien drug, and legally, it might as well be grape jelly.
  • Fantastic Racism
    • Obviously, some humans resent the Tenctonese.
    • The Tectonese are puzzled by human behavior in this, in that they were welcomed with open arms like no one in the Universe ever had, then treated like shit when they'd settled in.
  • Fantastic Slur: Human bigots refer to Newcomers as "slags" or "spongeheads".
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Inverted, in that in the Tenctonese language, "Sykes" roughly translates as "excrement cranium" ("shithead"). However, it's pronounced differently ("see-ikes") than his name is normally pronounced ("sikes"). "Shithead" isn't an actual term in the Tenctonese language, however, so the bizarre combination sounds hilarious to them.
  • Gag Penis: When Sam encounters a condom and learns its function, he asks quizzically twice "And it still fits?". Apparently the aliens have large members (or Teeny Weenie).
  • Genius Bruiser: Tenctonese have Super Strength and learn much more quickly than humans in childhood, though their adult intelligence is roughly comparable to humans.
  • Godzilla Threshold: In-Universe, the Big Bad overdoses on the Fantastic Drug intentionally. He's quite pissed off, explaining that he had no choice. (In the film, he's unable to speak.)
  • G-Rated Drug: Newcomers get intoxicated on sour milk. The yeast-fermented stuff that we humans prefer has no effect on them.
  • Hand Cannon: Sykes upgrades from his police-issue sidearm to a Freedom Arms Model 83, a 5-round .454 Casull revolver, in order to combat the Newcomer gang that killed his partner. At the time the film was made, this was the most powerful handgun/cartridge commercially available.
  • Historical Figures in Archival Media: Archival footage of a Ronald Reagan speech is shown on a TV and recontextualized as a declaration allowing the aliens who crash-landed on Earth to live in the United States.

  • Human Outside, Alien Inside: Although they look moderately similar to humans, Tenctonese cannot metabolize cooked protein, so most of their diet consists of raw animals, they also have two "hearts" (not really hearts, but as close as they get to one).
  • Humans Are Special: Many of the Tenctonese, especially George, believe this because they welcomed The Newcomers into their world, gave total freedom to a species bred to be perfect slaves, and asked no more of them then they would themselves. Racism aside that's pretty damn impressive.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: A lot of them are racist towards the Newcomers.
  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: The Newcomer heroin is a blue substance that tastes like detergent to humans, but has the (nearly) same or a stronger effect on Tenctonese than heroin would on humans, including deadly side effects. This dope was used to keep them docile as slaves, more work equaled more dope, to the bitter end, literally. Overdosing on it turns Newcomers into nigh-unstoppable rage monsters. George is terrified of the substance coming back and is prepared to kill himself to wipe it out again.
  • Insufficiently Advanced Alien: As a slave race, that wasn't their ship or their tech. Thus, they end up no more advanced than humanity.
  • Made of Iron: The Newcomers are a lot tougher than humans, especially when drugged up, as Sykes discovers during the opening shootout. It takes him an entire magazine from a standard 9mm pistol to put one of them down, which leads him to switch to a Hand Cannon.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Murder of a cop during a robbery -> re-introducing a devastating alien drug.
  • Minority Police Officer: George is the first Tenctonese member of the LAPD to be made a detective.
  • Nicknaming the Enemy:
    • Bigots refer to the Newcomers as "Slags". There's also "Spongeheads."
    • Some Tentonese refer to humans as "Terts," apparently a corruption of "terrestrial."
  • No Biochemical Barriers: The Newcomers may eat weird stuff, like raw beaver, but it's all Earth-originated. Played straight with intoxicants - while humans and Tenctonese can attempt to ingest the others' intoxicants, the intoxicating effects only work on one species. (Obviously, humans have sampled sour milk before and want no part of it.) This extends to several other things and was developed more in the TV series - other examples we see in the movie are that Newcomers aren't harmed by radon or methane fumes, but salt water is like battery acid to them.
  • Novelization: By Alan Dean Foster, and expanded on the Back Story. It was released six months before the film came out.
  • Ominous Floating Spaceship: The Newcomers' spaceship for its first appearance.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: George is normally a completely straight by-the-book cop. Where the Fantastic Drug is concerned, he becomes even more of a Cowboy Cop than Sykes.
  • Police Procedural: With aliens.
  • Product Placement: Pepsi, Bartles and James, Tic Tacs - a lot of placement in the store robbery early in the movie.
  • Pun-Based Title: "Alien Nation" as in a nation full of aliens, and "alienation," referencing the friction between humans and Tenctonese
  • Punny Name: Most of the Newcomers, including George (whose human name officially was "Sam Francisco"). Explained as the immigration authorities getting burned out assigning names to the Newcomers and resorting to a form of sarcastic humor.
  • Puny Earthlings: The Newcomers have great strength, stamina, durability, ability to survive in environments humans can't, extra hearts, and if they overdose on an extraterrestrial narcotic, they transform into murderous, supercharged berserkers. But they do have a strange weakness or two: water with high salinity burns them like sulphuric acid burns naked mole rats and they get stinking drunk from sour milk.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: After nearly being killed when his 9 mm Beretta proves inadequate at stopping a drugged up Newcomer, Det. Sykes switches to a .454 Casul Hand Cannon.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Tenctonese look mostly human, except they have bald, spotted heads instead of hair.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: The Newcomers were enslaved by the Overseers and everything we learn about the experience was miserable, horrifying, and dehumanizing. Virtually every Overseer we encounter is also Always Chaotic Evil.
  • Sons of Slaves: The Newcomers were originally the slaves of another alien race. After they settled on Earth their past caught up to them: one of them started to manufacture an addictive and dangerous drug that their former masters used to pacify them.
  • Starfish Language: Tenctonese.
  • Super Strength: The Newcomers were bred for it.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Newcomer flesh dissolves on contact with salt water. Note that it's not salinated water that hurts them; sea water is not just sodium chloride dissolved in water.
  • Wedding Finale: The movie ends with the protagonist walking with his daughter to the altar.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: The Newcomer coroner's assistant recognizes the signs of the drug and after dropping off the report for George goes home early. He has no bearing on the rest of the film. (He was tortured and killed in the novel.)
  • Wunza Plot: Wunza human, wunza former alien slave. They fight crime.
  • Your Mom: A really nasty Tenctonese insult: "Your mother mates out of season", which probably means something like "Your mother's a whore." When the Newcomer Porter delivers that insult to Matt and Matt asks for a translation George tells him he doesn't want to know what Porter said before giving in and telling him.