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The thing that I like best about ALIEN NATION ($25) is the fact that it is a gritty and entertaining cop/buddy movie wrapped up in the facade of a science fiction film. ALIEN NATION puts forth the notion that an alien spaceship lands in the California desert with 300,000 genetically engineered slave laborers onboard. With no way of returning the "newcomers" to wherever they came from, they are absorbed into the populace after a quarantine period. Three years later, the "newcomers" have adapted to life on Earth, with "The American Dream" becoming their own. However, their superior mental and physical abilities cause a sector of the human community to begin discriminating against the "newcomers," because they distrust the so called "slags," as they would any other new minority group.

ALIEN NATION stars James Caan as police detective Matthew Sykes, a somewhat bigoted cop, whose partner is killed in the line of duty by a couple of "slags." Surprisingly, Sykes volunteers to be partnered with the first "newcomer" who is promoted to detective. However, we quickly find out that Sykes intends to use his new partner to get inside the "newcomer" community and find the two individuals that murdered his former partner. Mandy Patinkin portrays the first "newcomer" detective, Samuel Francisco, whom Sykes dubs George to avoid having repeat a name that was originally someone's idea of a joke. After beginning their murder investigation, cowboy cop Sykes and his "by the book" partner quickly realize that the cop killing is part of a larger conspiracy involving the distribution of a highly addictive drug that was once used to control the "newcomers" while they were still slaves toiling for their masters in outer space. As I pointed out above, the science fiction elements of ALIEN NATION are superficial, with the meat and potatoes of the story concerning a veteran cop, who is breaking in a new partner as the duo go after a drug kingpin. James Caan and Mandy Patinkin have good chemistry together, which makes watching their characters warm to one another completely believable. The cast of ALIEN NATION also includes Terence Stamp, Kevyn Major Howard, Leslie Bevis, Peter Jason, George Jenesky, Jeff Kober, Roger Aaron Brown, Tony Simotes and Brian Thompson.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offers ALIEN NATION on DVD in a wide screen presentation that restores the film's 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, as well as providing the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. The transfer provides a good-looking image that is reasonably crisp and nicely detailed. In general, colors are reproduced with a natural level of saturation and the flesh tones that appear reasonably accurate. Strong cool blue and neon green lighting appear during the film's nighttime sequences and these more vivid hues are reproduced with complete stability. Blacks are cleanly rendered, plus the picture produces a solid level of shadow detail. The element used for the transfer displays only minor blemishes and an occasional bit of film grain. Digital compression artifacts are usually well concealed and never become overtly noticeable.

The Dolby Digital 4.1 channel soundtrack ports the original pre-matrixed stems from the Dolby Surround mix into the newer format. Subsequently, this mix is cleaner than the matrixed format, but still maintains the biggest limitation of the older surround format, namely the frequency limited monaural rear channels. The forward soundstage has good channel separation and effective deployment of sound effects. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and fully intelligible, although some of the voices sound a bit flat from time to time. For the most part, the surround channels provide ambient sound and musical fill; however, active sound effects do crop up that mesh nicely with the forward soundstage. The bass channel offers a decent bottom end, but it is evident that the recordings and the mix are from the Dolby Surround era. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, Spanish and French subtitles.

The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. A short behind-the-scenes featurette produced back in 1988 for the film's theatrical release is included on the ALIEN NATION DVD. Additionally, some unedited on-the-set footage has also been provided on the disc. Three TV spots, plus a theatrical trailer for ALIEN NATION and several other Fox sci-fi DVD titles fill out the extras.

If you like cop/buddy movies or even sci-fi flicks, you can't go wrong by picking up a copy of ALIEN NATION. The DVD looks and sounds just fine for a late 80's offering.


Alien Nation


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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