Saturday, March 31, 2018

The New Centurions

This is my entry in the Good Cop / Bad Cop Blogathon hosted by Classics and Craziness

The United States today seems to be divided on the subject of illegal aliens.  They want to build a wall on the southern border to stave off or prevent an influx of aliens from their southern neighbor.  But the real wall should be built in outer space if they really want to prevent a "dangerous" alien infiltration, don't ya think?

The premise of this movie is that the world was turned upside down in 1988 when a spaceship landed in Los Angeles with a load of refugees from an interstellar slave ring.  The Tectonese who had revolted against their slave masters had commandeered the ship and landed on Earth where they were given asylum.

Three years later, most of the slaves have been released from a temporary quarantine that had been imposed on them (mostly, it seems, just to be sure they weren't a threat to Earth citizens).  They are now productive members of society at all levels.  At least most of them are...

Alien Nation (1988):

Matt Sykes (James Caan) and his partner, Bill "Tug" Tuggle (Roger Aaron Brown), are a team of police patrol officers who are cruising "Slagtown".  (Aliens from Tecton are referred to derogatorily as "slags", sort of like the derogatory names that will come to your mind for humans of African, Asian and Hispanic descent.)  Sykes hates slags, typical of racist views of modern day.  (This movie, if you are not aware already, is a parable against racism in it's sub-context.)  The aliens are generally called "Newcomers" by more polite society, however.

The two observe some suspicious actions going on at a Newcomer convenience store which turns out to be a robbery.  Two rough looking newcomers try to rob an older newcomer couple, and the male Newcomer owner is killed.

They try to stop the robbery and in the melee Tug is killed by one of the Newcomer thugs.  Sykes chases down one of the aliens and is surprised that he is pretty hard to stop.  The alien downs a vial of some drug that almost turns him invincible.

 Sykes wants to get involved in the investigation of the crime but is refused the opportunity by the brass, because it is already assigned to a separate investigative team, but also because he is too closely connected to it, since his partner was a victim in the crime.  At the same time, a newcomer, Samuel Francisco (Mandy Patinkin),  is promoted to the rank of Detective and Sykes volunteers to be the new partner.

No, Sykes has not had a change of heart and is now friendly to "slags".  He has an ulterior motive in that he thinks the Newcomer will be useful in trying to find the ones responsible for the death of his partner.  Francisco will be of some help, Sykes thinks.  Upon learning that his partner is named "Sam" Francisco, Sykes suggests that he is going to call his new partner "George", to which the amiable Newcomer agrees.

Sykes is forbidden by the brass to actually get involved in the case that lead to his partner's death however.  But that doesn't prevent him from taking on a case that seems to have some peripheral connection.  Which allows him to surreptitiously investigate the case anyway.  Francisco wants to go by the book, however, and objects to anything that directly involves the other case.

But he changes his mind when he discovers some details about the death of their victim.

As it turns out, there is a highly addictive and deadly drug that was involved.  The drug has no effect on humans ("it tastes like detergent") but it turns the Newcomers into superman-like monsters if overused.  The case leads to a connection with a highly regarded Newcomer bigwig by the name of Harcourt (Terence Stamp).  Harcourt and several of the victims turning up were all in the same detainment camp that the government sent them to prior to their acceptance as valid citizens.

One of the neatest little twists is it turns out that the aliens are drastically  affected by salt water.  It is an acid to them.  Which makes one wonder why all Newcomers didn't relocate father away from the coast.  The acidity of the salt water plays a significant role in the finale.

Gradually the two detectives come to respect each other.  This is presaged about midways through the movie when Sykes takes a potshot at one of his fellow human officers for making derogatory comments about his new partner.  The fact that the fellow human officer is a jackass and Sykes probably doesn't like him anyway notwithstanding.

This is a traditional cop buddy movie with a twist.  The format runs along the same lines as most buddy cop movies, but the injection of the alien aspect makes it interesting on some levels.  And it is a damn site better than some movies I could name that put a twist on the standard buddy cop trope.  And of course, you know I will name some....  Like Cop and a Half which had Burt Reynolds matching wits with an 8-year-old kid, (and no snide comments about which one won that battle...) Or Theodore Rex which had Whoopi Goldberg teamed up with a dinosaur (???!!!)  Or possibly the worst combo ever, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! which had Sylvester Stallone's ubiquitous tough guy cop teamed up with his mom, played by Estelle "Golden Girls" Getty.

Alien Nation went on to become another of those great TV shows that I liked but were cancelled after a short run, this time only one season.  It was one of the first series that Fox TV introduced when they went the TV network route.  This one had Gary Graham and Eric Pierpoint  in the lead roles as Sykes and Francisco, respectively.  The sad part about the cancellation was it left the season ending show in a cliffhanger.  Financial issues were at the base of the reason for the cancellation.  Believe it or not, the megalith fourth network television studio suffered from lack of revenue in its first year and most of the more expensive shows were cancelled to save money.

Despite the fact that Fox brass decided to cancel the show, some of the office bigwigs green-lighted a series of TV movies based on the series.  Part of this was probably due to a fan base that made a graphic novel version of the show popular. The first TV movie,  Alien Nation: Dark Horizon gave us the long awaited conclusion to that cliffhanger from the end of the first TV season.  Fox went on to produce four more Alien Nation TV movies; Alien Nation: Body and Soul, Alien Nation: Millennium, Alien Nation: The Enemy Within and Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy.  Proving that there was some interest in the series that Fox had so capriciously cancelled, the movies garnered a good rating during their individual airings.  The TV movies are available on Amazon in one collection (and my birthday is in December... the collection costs $100...)

There were also a series of 9 novels that were published under the Alien Nation name.  Written by such familiar names (at least familiar to sci-fi novelizaton fans) as K. W. Jeter, Barry B. Longyear and the husband-wife team of Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, these novels, first taking the traditional route of novelizing the scripts of movies, then continuing in original stories are all interesting.

Alien Nation is still fondly loved by it's fan base.  In 2009 the SYFY Channel announced it was going to revive the series, still yet to be done however.  And a remake of the original movie is also rumored to be forthcoming. Those of us who love it wait in anticipation.

Drive home safely, folks.  Me, I think I'm gonna go cruise the Newcomer neighborhood looking for some alien action.



  1. What an interesting choice. Obvious for you, but I haven't thought of this movie/show in years and had forgotten how interesting it truly was. Time to do the old re-acquaintance boogie.

    1. I watched the original movie in the theater. I saw every episode of the TV show during its original run. I worked around a work schedule to have the day off when one of the TV movies was premiering. And I had, (and may still have)every one of the novels that came out. (Too bad it died out with only 8 of them). It doesn't rank up there with Columbo for it's police procedural story lines, but the characters were fascinating nonetheless. Thanks for reading.

  2. This looks like a movie I'd enjoy (sci-fi is my second favorite genre) and a neat twist on 'buddy cop' films.

    Thanks for participating in the blogathon!

    1. It's worth a look. Also if you manage to find the TV version, it's good too. Thanks for reading.


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