A film like Alien Nation encourages a lot of thought. For example, I think I’ve decided I want to say the film is badly directed (by Baker) while being poorly lighted (by Adam Greenberg). I already know I wanted to say it was atrociously edited. Kent Beyda’s cuts don’t just jump (there’s a car chase where it appears the cars have turned around and gone back the way they came), they also pop. The sound levels pops, which isn’t exactly Beyda’s fault, it’s more Baker’s fault or the producers’ fault, but there’s got to have something Beyda could do to trying to keep the background noise between shots consistent. Or maybe not. Maybe that base level of post-production care is beyond Alien Nation.
I mean, fixing the editing wouldn’t fix the music and fixing the music wouldn’t fix the script and fixing the script wouldn’t fix the acting. I suppose it’s possible a better script would’ve helped the performances but Baker’s still such a crap director, it’s hard to imagine it.
About the only thing good about Alien Nation is the make-up. Only not so much on the featured cast. Like Terence Stamp’s Mr. Big. His alien make-up is bad. And alien cop Mandy Patinkin’s make-up is occasionally inconsistent between scenes. At least it’s not between shots in scenes, which–really–is kind of a surprise given the way the rest of the film plays out, production-wise.
So Patinkin is the idealistic alien cop while James Caan is the grumpy, bigoted (and questionably skilled) human cop. Writer Rockne S. O’Bannon writes terrible police procedural, but he also writes terrible cop banter. The bonding scenes between Caan and Patinkin are painful. Partially because they’re so poorly written, partially because you just feel so bad for the actors. Caan’s got a lousy part from the opening. Patinkin has potential for a good part but the script is so bad. And the direction, can’t forget Baker’s bad direction. Oh, and if Patinkin does manage a decent delivery–you know, if his makeup isn’t off-center–it’s more likely than not Beyda will screw something up in the cutting.
There are no winners in Alien Nation. There are no gem performances. The production design isn’t special. Maybe the best performance in it is Roger Aaron Brown and only because all he has to do is act like James Caan is a tiresome prick. Caan is a tiresome prick. Alien Nation takes place over like three or four days. It’s about one case. Caan gets Patinkin as a partner for the single purpose of exploiting him being an alien to solve an alien-related murder case.
Odd thing? They never catch the guy Caan is after. They never even try to find out his identity. It’s not only a mess, it’s a forgetful mess.
Not even the short runtime–maybe ninety minutes even–helps things. Because it’s not like the scenes are short. The scenes are painfully long. Watching Baker and O’Bannon try to change tempo during a scene? It’s excruciating.
The whole thing is excruciating. The anguish starts with the opening titles and goes all the way to the finale voiceover.
Directed by Graham Baker; written by Rockne S. O’Bannon; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Curt Sobel; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Richard Kobritz; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring James Caan (Matthew Sykes), Mandy Patinkin (Sam Francisco), Terence Stamp (William Harcourt), Roger Aaron Brown (Tuggle), Peter Jason (Fedorchuk), Tony Perez (Alterez), and Leslie Bevis (Cassandra).
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