Alien Nation #24: Dark Horizon

A NEW Newcomer arrives on Earth in time to help Matt and George defeat the Purists' genocidal plot, but then wants to sell everyone on Earth into slavery.
SLAGS LIKE US: The racist attitudes of human culture are kept alive in the move to tele-films, of course, with new wrinkles added like the neighbor asking Susan not to let her children come out of the house while she's trying to sell hers, and horrifyingly, Matt's girlfriend Lorraine not being sure the Newcomers have souls since they're not mentioned in the Bible - religion at its ugliest, and yet, true to life going by the Christian groups who tried to sell their ideas on campus when I was a student, and who claimed women had no souls but had a duty to help their husbands keep theirs clean for those few seats available in Heaven. Looking through history, both near and far, you can insert the minority group of your choice for extremist groups to hate in the name of God.

REVIEW: Forced to continue the story four or five years on creates some awkward revisions, so let's discuss them first. Obviously, Emily is now older (13), and the sets have changed somewhat (especially the Francisco house). They did a rather impressive casting job getting most of stars rom the show, even the guest artists who played the Purist villains, with only Lorraine recast (mmm, Susannah Thompson). But it's more than a recast because this Lorraine seems more sophisticated than the previous one, talking religion rather than junk food. Scenes from the season/series finale are revised and redone to make Dark Horizon a story one can watch without the benefit of having seen (or remembering) Green Eyes, so continuity really goes off the rails as far as the plot goes. The year is suddenly 1999. Matt and Cathy's relationship was, crucially, never broken off by Cathy. George made Detective Two, but there's no mention of it causing a rift between him and Matt. There was no investigation into mysterious bacteria and George's family is targeted by a rogue Purist before their actual plan can be put into effect, and George is not there to knock the flowers away in slow-mo. Buck's affair with his teacher doesn't rate a mention and may have been expunged from reality. But more than that, some details seem wrong. George now has vague memories of Tancton from when he was a small child - I thought he was born on the ship - and it seems odd that the Overseers, so sinister in the series and trying to contact the slaver ships, would be so timid and "assimilated" here. Perhaps Matt and George dealt with all the real zealots. So yeah, not the smoothest transition from series to TV movies.

You can definitely tell what would have been the season 2 premiere and what was added to double its size. In fact, the movie can be split into two 45-minutes eps pretty easily. The first is the resolution of the cliffhanger, with Cathy working hard to find a cure before Susan and Emily die, and the latter's "puberty" providing it. The villains are properly chilling, especially Mrs. Bryant who is both sweet and sour, acting the "heartsick" grandmother just before she has someone blown away, and celebrating her birthday with a cake on the eve of a genocide ("TGIF" she says like she's thinking of weekend barbecues). The "episode" ends with a bit of action, and George jumping onto a helicopter. In the original treatment, I imagine the regulars would have had greater agency. Because Dark Horizon also needs to introduce an elite Overseer villain who worms his way into the characters' lives, he's the one who helps Cathy cure the disease AND brings the plague-spraying helicopter down. Weaker resolutions, surely.

The second thread actually allows the production to go into space and show us slaver ships, reimagined as organic shapes that are more or less at odds with the round saucer (and concentration camp barracks) of the original film and series. it gives the movie scope and eye candy. Still no "slavers" per se, but there seems to be a hierarchy among Overseers so we have bigger bosses to root against. Through this element, it's revealed Tanctonese had a principally matriarchal society, something that was always in the series bible according to the pilot's commentary track, and the arrival of Ahpossno (whose human name is the appropriate Norman Conquest) and his "pure" Tanctonese values reminds Susan of that. She soon quits her job, redecorates her home and starts to put her foot down with George. But Ahpossno's values AREN'T pure. They've been corrupted by the impositions of slavery, and we see this in his longing for using his martial art traditions honorably. In the end, it's that sense of honor that will make him accept death and, in a sense, go along with George's plan. It's subtly done (at least until they start giving him sentimental flashbacks), because he's exposed to freedom, reads about Lincoln, sincerely falls for Cathy, etc., but is still a soldier following orders. It's only when all his lost for him that he chooses to do the right thing. George's plan is brutal, using the Newcomer virus to infect Ahpossno so the slaver ships will believe Earth is inimical to life and all the freed slaves are already dead. He may have caused a plague in the process. Brrr. At least the denouement also includes Albert's sweet wedding and Matt and Cathy hooking for real. Moving forward, not all horizons are dark.

THE MOVIE LEGACY: The Newcomers have a weak spot under the armpit, established in the film, but not used on the show until now. I don't think we've seen the Newcomers' Pepto Bismol blood since then either.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Once you get beyond the inconsistencies between the series finale and this restart, the movie moves along at a good clip, filled with action, suspense, cool stuff and real consequences.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The color of Newcomer blood is acknowledged, symbolically, within the TV series. Check Buck's gang "colors" (his bandana) in the episode "Fifteen With Wanda"-- it's Newcomer-blood-pink. I believe it can also be seen in other episodes but it's most prominent in this one.

Siskoid said...

Nice detail! Hadn't noticed!

 

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