Alien Nation (1988)
Article 6001 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Graham Baker
Featuring James Caan, Mandy Pantinkin, Terence Stamp
What it is: Alternate Universe buddy cop story
In an alternate universe where mankind has welcomed a large group of travelling aliens to live on the planet with them, a cop teams up with an alien despite his prejudices. His goal is to use the new cop’s expertise on his race to track down the alien who killed his former partner.
Easily the most interesting thing here is the basic premise that mankind is sharing earth with another sentient non-human race. I consider this a very promising set-up; you could do a lot of cultural exploration if you used the premise creatively and thoughtfully. That’s why it disappoints me a little that the movie chooses to use the buddy cop approach; it’s such a familiar plot set-up that when it does deal with the cultural differences between the two races, it feels more gimmicky than substantive. Not that it’s a bad movie, mind you; it’s entertaining enough in its own way. But if feels like a missed opportunity in that it could have been something a whole lot more. Still, I’m glad to see a TV-series was based on this; the premise would work better in a TV series than as a movie. Unfortunately, it appears that the series wasn’t all that much better.
In my opinion, the TV series did much more with the premise than the more conventional movie did. In the TV series, the aliens are metaphors for people from other cultures coming to the United States and trying to assimilate (or not). Initially, they planned to call the alien protagonist George Jetson, but then discovered they would have to pay a .large fee to Hanna-Barbera if they did so. Since they had already started shooting, they renamed the character Sam Francisco, which causes his human partner to say, “I’ll just call you George.”