The original Alien Nation is one of the forgotten classics of 1980s science fiction. By fusing buddy cop tropes with science fiction elements, director Graham Baker and writer Rockne S. O’Bannon crafted a classic story of mystery and intrigue that explored the topic of racism in a way that was unique for its time. Its themes are especially relevant today, which is part of the reason why it made sense when it was announced that 20th Century Fox was planning a remake from director Jeff Nichols (Loving).
Nichols has been making quite the impression on cinema in recent years with films like Midnight Special and Mud. His indie acclaim has made him a rising star, and his auteur vision giving him a unique cinematic voice. The announcement that he would be handling a remake may have raised some eyebrows given his previous output, but now the director has made some statements that clarify what Alien Nation is going to be.
In an interview with Screen Crush, Nichols states that the upcoming movie isn’t a remake at all. The film is, in fact, based on a larger idea he’d been previously working on that he’s incorporating into Alien Nation in order to get the movie made. Nichols explained:
“It’s pretty much my idea. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the original. Fox called to ask me to do that. I said, ‘No.’ But I had been working on this bigger idea of my own and then I thought about it said, well you know, that’s a good title. And that title could go on to my bigger idea, then maybe I might actually get a chance to get it made. So in that sense I’m currently building it the same way I built all my other movies, meaning kind of from the ground up.”
The original Alien Nation stars James Caan (The Good Neighbor) as a racist detective forced to team up with an alien played by Mandy Patinkin (Homeland) to solve a murder. In the world of that film, aliens had crash landed on earth a few years prior and had begun integrating into society as best as possible, with many humans still wary of their new neighbors. It touches on themes of xenophobia and understanding, using aliens as a metaphor for racial relations.
While those themes seem to be on the table for exploration in Nichols’ new film, the idea that the director is integrating into his version is set towards the beginning of the alien crash. He explained his idea and the difference between his version and the original Alien Nation saying,
“With Alien Nation you’re looking at a society that was already built, they were already integrated into the society. And if you go back further and you think about those early days, that’s what I was focusing on.”
So it seems that Nichols is planning on exploring how the need for integrating an alien society into our own would affect the world around us and how society might react to the need to house these intergalactic refugees. That’s a particularly intriguing prospect given today’s climate and the fact that refugee integration is a topic up for serious debate by members of our government.
While it’s somewhat disappointing we won’t get to see Detectives Sykes and Francisco in an updated form, Nichols seems to be approaching the project from the right space. It’s becoming a total reimagining of the story that exists in an entirely separate world. It’s too bad he had to frame it as an Alien Nation remake in order to garner studio interest in the film, as it works conceptually on its own. Still, better than nothing – and if Fox insists on calling it remake, perhaps they’ll work in some call-backs and Easter eggs to tie the films together, even in small ways.
Alien Nation is currently in the early stages of development.