20th Century Fox’s long-gestating remake of Alien Nation (1988) has taken a step nearer production with the news that Mud and Midnight Special director Jeff Nichols is finishing up a deal to write and direct the feature.
If the remake is done right, this could be the most topical and mainstream critically-lauded piece of screen sci-fi since Ron Moore’s remake of Battlestar Galactica. That show perfectly transposed the fears of a post 9/11 world into a science fiction framework. The original Alien Nation film – and, arguably, the even better TV series that followed it – was a sci-fi parable for racism so presumably the remake will be as well.
So with America currently experiencing some of its worst racial clashes in decades, especially concerning the police treatment of racial minorities, a film that deals with a world trying to deal with integrating aliens – obviously visually different aliens – and spotlighting a human-cop/alien-cop partnership is very timely indeed.
In case you’re not familiar with the franchise, the original film, directed by Graham Baker, took place in a near future Los Angeles, shortly after a race of humanoid aliens, dubbed Newcomers, took refuge on Earth. An allegory for racial prejudice, the plot starredJames Caan as human police officer Matthew Sykes andMandy Patinkin as Newcomer police officer George Francisco. The film was followed by one season television spinoff and a number of TV movies. It was always more of a critical hit than a popular hit, but it was very good indeed. (The aliens also became drunk on milk, but that wasn’t allegorical, that was comedy relief.)
Let’s hope 20th Century Fox and Nichols have the guts to draw the parallels with racist issues around the world at the moment. As well as America’s own issues, there’s a growing and ugly increase in racism in Europe too. Science fiction has often prided itself on its ability to highlight real world topics; the new Alien Nation could – and should – be a hard-hitting, eye-opening, thought-provoking examination of the dangers of intolerance.