"Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection" DVD Review
May 01, 2008 by Zach Demeter
In many ways, Alien Nation could have been considered the Firefly of the 90s. A new show on Fox, Alien Nation was canned after its first season due to funding reasons in the infantile Fox network’s budget. Despite being a spin-off of a rather lack-luster film, Alien Nation swept fans up in its own unique world with aliens (or as they’re called in the series, “Newcomers”) and humans living alongside one another. While the film was prematurely cancelled, it later returned in a series of made-for-TV movies which aired from 1994 through 1997. While the fans were dealt a raw deal with the series cancellation, the films at least allowed them to find some closure to the saga.
Alien Nation focuses on two detectives, one alien and one human, and the cases they solve…both terrestrial and extraterrestrial. Taking place in Los Angeles, Alien Nation was very much a “buddy cop” type series, although through the introduction of an alien species it could play with touchier topics such as racism and fear of the unknown without being too concerned about the ramifications of what doing those type of stories with “normal” human begins would bring. Our main operatives are George Francisco, the alien, and his human partner Matthew Sikes; together they fight off the evil that plagues LA, all the while attempting to understand one another’s culture, as difficult as that may seem.
While the original film, starring James Caan as Matthew and Mandy Patinkin as George, seemed to be nothing else than an alien-ized version of Lethal Weapon, the series took it all a step further with the expansion of the characters roles and explored their personal lives much deeper than the film ever did. We see George’s wife, son and daughter and their trying adjustment to human life, while Matthew’s character gains a love interest with his neighbor Cathy. It’s a much deeper dynamic for both parties in the series as we have plenty of time to discover more about each of them.
Once the series came to its cliffhanger ending, fans had to wait four years until the first of five made-for-TV films would air. The first, “Dark Horizon”, wrapped up the series cliffhanger, where deadly toxic gas, meant to wipe out all of the Newcomers, was released into the air. After their fates were revealed, we are introduced to a few new plot elements, but nothing too detailed as “Dark Horizon” was never meant to be the first of five and instead it was to act as a series finale. Like the series, “Dark Horizon” had rather mediocre special effects for its time, but that’s’ to be expected for its time.
After seeing the ratings for “Dark Horizon”, Fox jumped on board for a pair of films this time, the first of which was “Body and Soul.” This movie delves deeper into the shows roots and introduces a mysterious little girl who is half-human / half-Newcomer. With origins shrouded in mystery, the movie really ramps up when it’s found that she’s connected to a giant Newcomer; when all is said and done, it ends up being linked to government research that is using the Newcomer technology to create new types of weaponry on Earth. The second of the two films is “Millennium” a tale that focuses on the coming year 2000 and the impact it’ll have (those of us living in 2008 will find that it had no impact). This film is easily the first one that seems less “epic” in nature and really just feels like an extended episode. The plot revolves around a cult that is causing a cluster of suicides to pile up and its mysterious Newcomer leader who is simply preying on humanities fear of Y2K.
Once again impressed by the success of the films, Fox ordered for two more films to be made (one has to wonder why they didn’t just request a new season at this point). Shot in unison with one another, the first of the new films, “The Enemy Within” aired in November of 1996, just ten months after “Millennium.” “The Enemy Within” cuts out the epic, worldwide Armageddon tension and instead refocuses on the characters and their relationships. It seems neither George nor Matthew can maintain their tumultuous relationships and also about the racism in the Newcomer society. While the series focused on the human perception of Newcomers and that brand of racism, “The Enemy Within” flipped the tables and had George criticizing the lowest form of Newcomer in their caste system, the “Eeno.” While it may not sound like the most exciting of the films, it is definitely one of the strongest—the way the series dealt with characters and emotions was one of its highlights and it was nice to see this episode delve so deeply into their relationships.
The final Alien Nation film was “The Udara Legacy.” Despite being shot back-to-back with “The Enemy Within”, “The Udara Legacy” didn’t air until seven months after “The Enemy Within.” A strange delay, but I guess Fox didn’t want to pile them too closely together and opted to wait for a summer airing. “The Udara Legacy” throws a Newcomer into a political race with their previous slave drivers, the Udara, in hot pursuit as assassins, their new job on Earth since slave driver isn’t exactly a booming business in Los Angeles. This movie brings some closure to the series as a whole and while they introduce some new characters in this film, it really wraps up our current collection, especially with the progression of George’s son, Buck, and him finally deciding what he wants to do with his life.
Overall the quintilogy of films is a superb selection, as it shows off what was so good about the series. While it keeps us entertained with action and mystery, it also breaks out a fair amount of character development and progression, something you don’t often seen in made-for-TV films. It seemed that know that they could write multiple films in a row, the writers were more comfortable with the final four films in the set than they were with the “Dark Horizons” opener. The movies only got better as they went on and for fans of the series this one comes Highly Recommended, while the uninformed may want to pick up the Alien Nation – Complete Series before delving into this five-movie set.
Originally released as a Best Buy exclusive back in September of 2007, Fox Home Video made this “Ultimate Movie Collection” available to all retailers in April. Nothing changed between the sets, as they still contained two thin-paks in a slipcase and three discs; the first disc contained the first film, “Dark Horizons”, while the other discs in the set were double-sided, single layer affairs that have the remaining four films stretched across the double sided discs. I guess Fox must have a stockpile of double-sided single layer discs laying around, that’s the only reason I can think why they used them for this set.
Audio and video for this set are what you’d expect, with plenty of grain and old-age showing up in the transfer, but for the most part it’s solid and passable. Audio is clean and clear and accurately shows off the films audio capabilities—which isn’t much, considering its Dolby Stereo Surround track, but still. It’s TV from the 90s, what more do you want?
The extras…good lord they really pack them in here. Everyone of the film comes with an exhaustively detailed commentary by director and executive producer of all five films, Kenneth Johnson. I can just imagine Johnson getting on IMDb and crawling through his own database of information on the films and collecting it for the commentary recording sessions, because I cannot believe that he retained so many minute details of information. I love an informative commentary, but he throws so much information into these that it’s almost overkill.
For the documentary and other extras department, “Dark Horizons” contains a twenty-two minute “making-of” which collects behind-the-scenes footage from the films productions and contains narration by Kenneth Johnson. All of the films, sans “The Udara Legacy” have this same style of narration, with “Body and Soul” containing a twenty-two minute making-of, “Millennium” a nineteen minute making-of, and “The Enemy Within” a twenty-three minute making-of.
Other extras include gag reels for “Dark Horizons” (eight minutes), “Body and Soul” (seven minute) and “Millennium” (six minutes) and still galleries for all of the five films on the set. The final extra is the “Family Gathering”, a 2007 reunion of the cast at Johnson’s house. The cast meets for lunch and reminisces about their feelings on the series and films and how appreciative they were to work on them. It can get a bit relentless with back-slapping at times, but it’s a retrospective feature that’s done very well and I’m sure fans will enjoy it for years to come.
Overall this set really isn’t lying when it calls itself the “Ultimate Movie Collection.” With all five films inside one slipcase and each one containing a commentary that will blow your mind with details and tidbits, this is a difficult set for fans to pass up. Whether you got it from Best Buy during its September 2007 release or you are just now going to pick it up, be sure to check this one out. Fans likely own it already, but it’s worth a look for those who only casually watched the show or were fans of the films when they originally aired. Recommended.
Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection is now available on DVD.