Jeff Nichols’ ‘Alien Nation’ Won’t Be a Remake, Will Be Based on His Original Idea
From Shotgun Stories to Take Shelter to Mud, Jeff Nichols’ has made his name as an indie filmmaker who refuses to yield to mainstream expectations. Just look at Midnight Special, a sci-fi thriller that avoided any kind of exposition, or his new biopic, Loving, which is more of a love story than a didactic political drama. Considering the originality of Nichols’ work, it’s a little surprising that the director’s next project will be a remake of 1988 sci-fi movie Alien Nation. But even that film won’t be what you’d expect.
Last month, Deadline revealed Nichols will write and direct the film for 20th Century Fox after Iron Man scribes Art Marcum and Matt Holloway left the project. The 1988 buddy cop thriller starred James Caan as a racist police officer reluctantly teaming up with Mandy Patinkin’s extraterrestrial for a murder case. While talking to Nichols about his upcoming drama Loving, the filmmaker told me his Alien Nation won’t be a remake at all. “It’s pretty much my idea,” he said. “It doesn’t really have anything to do with the original.” The only connection between the 1988 movie and Nichols’ screenplay is the title.
Fox called to ask me to do that. I said, ‘No.’ But I had been working on this bigger idea of my own and then I thought about it said, well you know, that’s a good title. And that title could go on to my bigger idea, then maybe I might actually get a chance to get it made. So in that sense I’m currently building it the same way I built all my other movies, meaning kind of from the ground up.
Set in 1991, the original film takes place a year after a ship carrying 300,000 extraterrestrials landed on Earth. The film explores the tensions between the aliens and the humans who live among each other in Los Angeles. While Nichols at first turned down the project, he saw potential for his own idea, which explores the time between an alien arrival and when they merge with society:
With Alien Nation you’re looking at a society that was already built, they were already integrated into the society. And if you go back further and you think about those early days, that’s what I was focusing on.
The old Alien Nation is essentially about racism and xenophobia through the lens of science fiction, and it sounds like Nichols’ movie will focus on the onset of those tensions. It’s a topic that couldn’t be more relevant today, especially in light of a Trump presidential campaign, and it makes sense coming from Nichols. He’s already tackled sci-fi with Midnight Special and in Loving he explores the emotional angle of a historical story about an interracial couple in the late 1950s. Both of those films explore similar themes of otherness and alienation, looking at the tensions and fears that arise from difference. If Alien Nation is anything like Nichols’ recent work, we’re in store for something special.
There’s one remaining question though: Will there be a role for Nichols’ regular Michael Shannon in the new movie? “Gosh, I hope so,” the director told me. We’ve already seen Shannon as an extraterrestrial, but maybe this time he’ll actually have flippers for hands.
Loving opens in limited theaters on November 4.