SFX|April 2021

ODD-COUPLE-IN-A partnership flicks were pretty popular in the ’80s, even if in retrospect some of the films that explored interracial relations now seem heavy-handed with their stereotypes. Following the releases of 48 Hrs and Lethal Weapon, Alien Nation was an attempt to put a science fiction spin on the mismatched buddy cops premise. It focused on the unique alliance between a maverick veteran cop named Matt Sykes and his more pedantic new partner from another planet, Samuel Francisco.

Having landed on Earth a few years previously, Francisco is part of a once enslaved extraterrestrial race who have been gradually integrated into LA society – much to the disdain of his human counterpart, whose former partner was killed by one of these “Newcomers”. Rockne S O’Bannon, the man who went on to create sci-fi shows such as SeaQuest DSV, Farscape and Defiance, was inspired by another iconic TV show when he penned the initial story (originally entitled “Outer Heat”) in collaboration with producer Richard Kobritz. “I wrote it in the mid–’80s when I was working on a remake of The Twilight Zone TV series, which was my first job as a professional writer,” O’Bannon tells SFX. “I was inspired by what Rod Serling did with the original, where he realised he could say things metaphorically about society in a science fiction or fantasy setting without being absolutely direct about it.”

It’s a testament to the strength of O’Bannon’s original script (which evolved from a concept for what was originally intended as a TV pilot), that it subsequently made its way into the hands of powerhouse couple Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron. “Gale and Jim had just come off the one-two punch of The Terminator and then Aliens, so nobody was hotter than the two of them at that time,” continues O’Bannon. “So when I heard that they had responded to the script and they wanted to be involved I was over the moon for obvious reasons.”

However, with Cameron consumed with his “aliens underwater” feature The Abyss, the search was on for an appropriate director to helm Alien Nation. One filmmaker who was interested was John McTiernan, who had just directed the original Predator. “There was some internal politics going on, so it wasn’t offered to him – but then he went on to do Die Hard, which worked out incredibly well for him,” notes the writer.

“My assumption was that since it was being produced by Gale Anne Hurd it would be directed by James Cameron, until it became evident that he was totally occupied with his brainchild and passion, The Abyss,” director Graham Baker recalls. Ultimately, the British-born filmmaker was offered the opportunity, due to his previous association with 20th Century Fox: having directed The Final Conflict, the third instalment in their highly successful Omen film series, and the sci-fi mystery flick Impulse.

Describing O’Bannon’s script in its original form, Baker remembers: “It was essentially a film noir thriller, brilliantly combining the buddy cop genre with a completely original take on the alien genre; a beautifully written, provocative, intriguing, witty riff on immigration, prejudice and relationships.”

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