When Midnight Special was removed from the South African theatrical release schedule earlier this year (Booo!!) it meant that lots of people didn’t get to see one of the best science-fiction films of the year. Writer/director Jeff Nichols had been on a fantastic run, producing nothing but incredible films like Take Shelter and Mud, and his latest was arguably his best yet as it gave us this incredible slice of throwback sci-fi goodness.
It appears though that, barring some distribute mishap, local audiences may be getting another opportunity to get some throwback sci-fi goodness from Nichols, as he has now been tapped to write and direct a planned remake of 1980’s cult favourite sci-fi Alien Nation for 20th Century Fox.
The original 1988 film starred James Caan and Mandy Patinkin and was a unique mix of buddy cop, noir and sci-fi genres as it told of a near-future Los Angeles in which a race of extraterrestrials known as the Newcomers have settled in LA and try to assimilate themselves into human culture. Caan played human police detective Matthew Sykes whose partner is killed in an altercation with Newcomers, who is forced to set aside his xenophobia when he has to partner up with Patinkin’s Newcomer detective Sam Francisco to solve similar murders.
Upon release the film received mostly received mixed reviews, with many praising its technical achievements – like the makeup effects and documentary style cinematography – but deriding it for its unoriginal and uninspired approach to its genre mash-up potential, as well as how little development was given to the Newcomers. The film built up a bit of a cult following though, which was enough to warrant a TV series adaptation a year later that took several of the themes the film had glossed over and unpacked them further, including diving deep into the Newcomers’ culture. It also had a much lighter tone than the grim movie, and had Caan and Patinkin’s roles played by Gary Graham and Eric Pierpoint respectively.
With all these changes, the TV series adaptation got a much warmer reception than its movie counterpart, but unfortunately ended up getting the axe after just one season, when TV network FOX ran into financial troubles forcing it to cancel its entire lineup of dramatic series in 1990/1991. The show was left on a massive cliffhanger, upsetting fans, but luckily a change of management at the network four years later saw the franchise being revived in a series of five TV movies that finished off the story.
In Deadline‘s initial report of Nichols being brought on to pen the script and direct this new feature film, there’s no mention of which of these incarnations he would use as inspiration for his take on the material, if any at all. The themes of racism and social politics that both the original movie and subsequent TV offerings relied on so heavily, is a good fit for Nichols’ filmmaking styles. And his favourite thespian talisman, Michael Shannon – who has thus far starred in all but one of Nichols’ feature films – would be even better fit for either the role of human Sykes or the Newcomer Sam Francisco.
Nichols is just about to release his new film, the true story Loving which deals with a landmark US Supreme Court interracial marriage case, so he’s already kind of got into the headspace needed for Alien Nation already. And with his schedule now clear, this should be his next project.
Last Updated: September 13, 2016