Back Comments (8) Share:
Feature
Shortly after the release of the 1988 film Alien Nation starring James Caan was released, Fox approached veteran television producer Kenneth Johnson, creator of such science fiction classics as The Six-Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk, and V, about adapting it for the small screen. At first Johnson was reluctant to take on another sci-fi show, but after giving the idea some deeper thought he reconsidered and took the reins of the series for the then young network.

Alien Nation: The Complete Series
Alien Nation is a direct follow-up to its theatrical counterpart which tells the story of a race of alien slaves who escape from their captors and crash land in Los Angeles. Known as Newcomers, they quickly integrate themselves into human society, but are challenged by discrimination, adapting to life on Earth, and their new found freedom. At the centre of the film is Newcomer Sam 'George' Francisco, the first of his kind to ascend to the rank of detective within the Los Angeles police department. Partnered up with bigoted and disgruntled Detective Matthew Sikes, they attempt to thwart a plot to re-enslave the Newcomers and in the process learn to accept each others' differences.

Johnson realized that the material had the ability to become something more than just another science fiction show and took its basic premise of an alien race intermixing with the citizens of Los Angeles and made it into something different and unexpected. Expanding on the ideas and direction of the original film, he kept its police story element and subtle sci-fi trappings, but with television being a much broader medium and one in which ideas can be more developed and explored he also made Alien Nation a drama about a family of outsiders trying to find acceptance in a world that doesn't fully understand or even tolerate them.

Alien Nation: The Complete Series
I hadn't seen an episode of the series since it first aired on television back in the 1989-1990 season, and seeing it again years later with a better understanding of what it was trying to accomplish—which often comes with age and wisdom—I found that I enjoyed it much more this time around. It's a very different animal than most television programs and intertwines its police and family drama elements quite cleverly with its more fantastical science fiction trappings and plot devices. Though many of the basic police or family storylines throughout could have been lifted from a number of similar programs, its sci-fi elements manage to turn a few of these tried and true plots on their ear in unexpected ways and keeps it consistently engaging from episode to episode.

It's a shame then that Alien Nation only lasted one season on the Fox Network, who at the time reportedly couldn't financially continue it even though the ratings were good enough for renewal and critical response to the show was good. The series’ cliff-hanger ending was never resolved for the television audience, but to Fox's credit they would later resurrect Alien Nation in the form of five made-for-television features, beginning with 1994's Alien Nation: Dark Horizon, and to an extent give the show's loyal fans a little bit of what they had been missing for four years and a resolution to the original series' final episode. Hopefully we won’t have to wait four years this time around for those films to make it to DVD.

Alien Nation: The Complete Series
Video
Alien Nation: The Complete Series is presented in its originally televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 for its debut on DVD, and as somewhat expected the results are a bit mixed for this nearly sixteen year-old show. For those that have picked up or rented Fox’s release of Space: Above and Beyond from a few months back, the video transfer here will seem very similar; the image is a bit soft, the colours a little bit washed out, and it suffers from minor artefacts showing up every now and again, but given the age of the show and the fact that this is more or less a budget television title from Fox the image quality being what it is isn’t exactly unexpected. Though it would have been nice to see the original elements re-mastered for this DVD release, the transfer is still fairly decent and better than other recent, like releases, such as Paramount Home Video’s War of the Worlds: The Complete First Season from a few months back which at times was nearly unwatchable.

Audio
Alien Nation: The Complete Series features a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround tracks in both English and Spanish with optional English and Spanish subtitles, and like the video transfer the quality is decent given the source material. Like most television programs, and especially like most programs that originally aired around 1989 and before, most of the sound is relegated to the front channels with very little going on in the rear or the LFE channels. Other than the fact that the audio is average and nothing spectacular or anything to write home about, the track does its job and is crisp and clear without any glaring defects to speak of, which is really all I expected from the track in the first place anyway. Overall, the sound doesn’t do anything to make it stand out from the crowd of other similar television releases, but at least it doesn’t stand out for any of the wrong reasons either.

Alien Nation: The Complete Series
Extras
Along with the series’ complete run of twenty-four episodes, the set comes with two additional features; an audio commentary on the pilot episode with show creator Kenneth Johnson and a vintage production featurette on the making of the series.

The only other time that I have listened to a commentary track with Kenneth Johnson was for his 1983 miniseries V, which was a track that I very much enjoyed for its informational content as well as Johnson’s easy going  and almost conversational approach to the recording. The track included with Alien Nation’s ninety-minute pilot episode is another good one that is full of information about the show and Johnson’s involvement from the time he was originally approached to do the show through the series’ completion. Johnson also manages to get in plenty of interesting and often times humorous anecdotes, which combined with all of the info makes the track on that any series fan should give a listen to.

The behind-the-scenes featurette located on the final disc side of the set is another story though. I was expecting something a little more comprehensive than a promotional plug for the show circa 1989 with a running time of no more than a couple of minutes, but that’s all this extra turned out to be I’m afraid and hardly worth the time that it took to watch it.

As for the packaging of the set, Fox has again used DVD-10 discs placed within three THINpak cases, which is the same approach that was recently taken with Space: Above and Beyond on DVD. I’m a fan of using the more protective THINpaks over foldout digipaks for television on DVD, but I’m still not a fan of double-sided discs as far as disc protection goes. I’m a bit puzzled why they didn’t just use six, more user-friendly DVD-9 discs instead; certainly the cost difference couldn’t be that much, if anything at all.

Alien Nation: The Complete Series
Overall
I’ve been waiting for quite some time for Alien Nation to arrive on DVD, and I’m happy to report that unlike a lot of television programs from my more formative years that weren’t as good as I remembered them to be that this one lives up to the memories, and in a lot of ways surpasses them. Fox Home Video’s treatment of the series on DVD is a solid effort but nothing outstanding, although Kenneth Johnson’s commentary track is certainly worth a listen for long-time fans or those new to the series and raises the quality of the set as whole a few notches. Overall, I really enjoyed this set for what it is, and hopefully a few more of you out there will buy it and feel the same so that Fox will be more inclined to get the series of made-for-television films from the ‘90s out sooner rather than later.


Links: