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DVD Review – Alien Nation: The Ultimate Movie Collection
Come join the “Alien Nation”-they’ve got weasel donuts!
Director: Kenneth Johnson
Starring: Gary Graham, Eric Pierpoint, Michelle Scarabelli.
Studio: Paramount Studios
Release Date: April, 2008
For those who didn’t have cable television when “Alien Nation” was being broadcast, the wonderful world of TV-on-DVD releases has made it possible to catch this series in its entirety.
The “Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection” 3 DVD set has all five of the made-for-TV movies that were done after the series was canceled. For those who missed out, “Alien Nation” is about a slave ship that had 250,000 Tenctonese aboard, almost all of whom were slaves that crash landed in the Mojave Desert. Since these aliens were not able to return home, they were introduced into LA and allowed to assimilate as best they could. The main focus is Detective George Francisco and his family. George is an officer partnered with a human, Matt Sikes, and together they work mostly homicide cases.
The series has a focus on tolerance, which is pretty evident in the movies, as the aliens, known as Newcomers face human prejuidice. Some of the Newcomers become concerned about their own racial purity and so they have to come to terms with being a minority in a world filled with what they feel is an inferorior species. There are cultural clashes and serious faux pas galore throughout the movies as the two cultures do their best to adjust. What is nice is that the creators of the show definitely put a great deal of attention into the Tenctonese language and into their cultural representations. It’s easy to incorporate explanations (which remain remarkably consistent) into the general fabric of the dialog and plot. Sometimes the “people are people” spiel does get a little tiresome, but then, I watched all of these movies in a single sitting, rather than spaced out over the three years they were made, so it’s acceptable within the framework of a show finishing its story arc through multiple movies that aren’t going to get shown consecutively.
The series is still highly enjoyable, especially since the Tenctonese go far beyond just being a sort of Bizarro World class of humans, despite being very humaniod in appearance. Of course, more humanoid aliens would be far more likely to survive in a human world, since their might be hesitance on the part of humanity to just go ahead and shoot them and be done with it. It really is a (forgive me Mr. Roddenberry and Mr. Spock) highly logical show.
The look is also a bit surprising, due mostly to the fact that “Alien Nation” is both brightly light and very colorful. These movies were aired during the mid-nineties, before the “X-files” effect really came into vogue, and it’s a bit of a shock seeing a show that is a cross between science-fiction and police procedural that actually has color and lighting that isn’t pale, washed-out, and shades of blue or green. The make-up effects still hold up, especially in an era obsessed with what computers can do for the movie and television industry, and while some of the special effects now look like they’d be more at home in an old, unretouched “Star Wars” movie, the show is all about the characters and is therefore not completely effects driven. So many shows lose sight of what well-designed sets and costumes can do for a production and completely forget about what green-screen shots really look like when they’re done. Sure, some of it looks really good, but a whole lot of it just sort of ends up looking-well-animted. “Alien Nation” is certainly a series that people could look at to get an idea of what things could be.
The movies also have very interesting scores. Rather than just hammering home the idea that the Tenctonese have keener senses, the scoring in the show really tries to portray the Tenctonese aesthetic. The music is multi-layered, with startling, almost heart-beat like tribal drums and rich complex harmonies that would probably make Bach weep for joy. It’s very unusual, uplifting music that emphasises and forwards every scene where it’s used. There are human songs, but there are also human songs which have been reworked with lyrics in Tenctonese which is both surprising and highly satisfying. It’s amazing, exciting, and inspiring to see that kind of dedication to a project
There is so much to like about these DVDs, mostly just on the basis of the movies themselves. Sure, they’re really just hugely extended episodes of a series and they’re made-for-TV movies with all the commercial break interruptions that implies, but they have great stories that add a little humor and a really good point about tolerating others who aren’t quite as different as one might think.
The set is relatively low priced, usually averaging around $25, and it has been on sale for even less on a few isolated occasions. The Special Features are kind of standard, consisting mostly of commentary, making of featurettes, and gag reels, but for fans of the show and for those who might be highly interested in the nuts and bolts of creating their own sci-fi show one day they offer some pretty valuable insight into the television process.
What isn’t so great is the fact that four of the five movies are on double-sided DVDs. The show is packaged in two slim-line cases, but I’ve seen four-disc sets released before this that could fit in a case the size of a single DVD case. Those double-sided discs seem an awful lot like a very cheap cop-out, especially considering the middle part meant to hold the discs in place doesn’t seem fantastically sturdy. The probability of these DVDs getting scratched or smeared with finger prints, unfortunately, seems very, very high.
So, is this set worth it? If you like sci-fi that doesn’t take itself too seriously and fish-out-of-water comedy with frequent wordplay jokes, then yes, this set ought to keep you very happily entertained for a while. If you’re a fan of the show, it’s definitely worth the money to purchase these. If you’re a newbie whose curious, these movies are also a very good introduction to the show, though I highly recommend you watch the movies in order. It’s easy to tell what sequence the should be watched in by the package, alas, the DVDs are not so obviously labeled. It was still a fun way to spend a very rainy, very cold afternoon.