The 1988 science fiction drama Alien Nation was something of a big deal for its time, as it was spun off into a series and several TV movies. Now, the film that merged an alien story with the tropes of a buddy cop flick has been largely forgotten. Recently, however, news came that writer/director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Loving) is attached to develop a remake of the film for 20th Century Fox. Given the themes explored by the original film, an update certainly has interesting potential.
Nichols previously spoke about the nature of this project, insisting that it is less of a traditional remake. He shared some thoughts suggesting how the film will be more a result of a big idea he had been working on, which is now being incorporated into the world of Alien Nation. Part of that idea may involve the current state of the real world.
As reported by EW, Nichols appears to be shaping his screenplay around the results of the recent U.S. election, given his choice to keep today's political climate in mind. During an interview following a screening of Loving, Nichols spoke about his progress, given recent events:
“Yeah, and I’m still grappling with that. There was a wall in the script before [the election]. I think films at their best are reflections of the society that produces them. I know for a fact that an audience, when they’re walking to the theater, they bring their issues with them. And [I've] always been fascinated by that since my first film. Especially with my first film, I was just in a bubble making something and then I saw the outside world come in and start to put all this stuff on it.
“With this next film, I’m still, like everybody, trying to figure out what all this means for us. But whether I want it to or not, it’s going to be a reflection of the world. And I want it to.”
The original Alien Nation stars James Caan as a racist detective forced to team up with an alien played by Mandy Patinkin (Homeland) to solve a murder. In the film's universe, aliens crash landed on Earth a couple years prior and began to integrate themselves into society as best as possible, with many humans still cautious of their new neighbors. The film touches on theme of xenophobia, using aliens as a clear metaphor for racial relations.
It would be hard not to draw a line between what that film was going for and how Nichols could find ways to tie it to modern society. In addition to having the means to produce a more visually ingtriguing film (although that 80s alien makeup does have its charm), there is a means for crafting a screenplay that places observation on where we as humans are right now.
Nichols certainly goes for that with Loving, a film that is expressly about the moral injustice seen in laws against interracial marriage. While restrained in approach, it is easy to look at how the context of that film can be centered around the atmosphere of today as well. Alien Nation may be a bit more obvious, as far as drawing parrallels, but genre fair does tend to keep its themes fairly close to the surface.
Given Nichols' filmography so far, it stands to reason that his take on an Alien Nation remake will have a less-is-more approach, even if it does involve two cops that don't get along, with one being an alien. One just has to hope the film is not compromised by the studio in moving the intentions against Nichols' understated filmmaking style.
Alien Nation is currently in the early stages of development, with an intended 2018 release date. Nichols' latest film Loving is currently in theaters.