The Alien Nation of Roger Rabbit.
The year 1988 saw the release of some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy films such as Beetlejuice, Short Circuit 2, Cocoon 2, the much underrated Willow, the magnificent Big, of course, Who Frame Roger Rabbit and Alien Nation.
Short Circuit, Roger Rabbit, and Big have an obvious connections to Steven Spielberg since he was executive producer on some and his sister – which whom he was supposed to have collaborated on a second project that has yet to materialize – wrote Big.
Yet for years, I have wondered about the similarities between Whom Framed Roger Rabbit and Alien Nation, and wondered if Spielberg and his associates once had options on Alien Nation, and later unconsciously duplicated it in the guise of Roger Rabbit. This is possible since Spielberg had worked previously with some of the creative people behind Alien Nation.
The slick technological marvels pulled off in Roger Rabbit diverts attention in some ways away from the fact that the film deals with many of the same significant social issues raised in Alien Nation – and raises a few of its own not evident in the more obvious social commentary in Alien Nation – such as the conspiracy of industry to undermine the public transportation system in order to benefit private interests (one of the elements of Fascism in which government ceases to benefit the public good but the industrial elite).
Like Alien Nation, Roger Rabbit delves into aspects of racism – although because of the seemingly lighter mood the film produces we did not get the same immediate impact that Alien Nation gives us.
Both films present us with a Los Angeles where races mingle although both have something akin to the predominantly black ghetto of the 1960s or the Jewish ghettos of the 1930s.
It is very easy to translate “slagtown” of Alien Nation into Watts of the 1960s and “toontown” into the Polish ghetto of 1939.
The tone of each also reflects those differing time periods. In Alien Nation we see the frustration of changing society in which alien and human (black and white) struggle to find a way to coexist. In Roger Rabbit, we get a fascist social order complete with Gestapo like weasels bent on the destruction of a race of toons.
In Alien Nation – reflecting American history – opens a few years after a slave ship full of obviously physically superior beings crashes in the desert and its residents are struggling to find their place in human society. As with modern America, drugs become a way of controlling these people once the chain of overt slavery are lifted, and how willing some members of the former slave community are to sell out their own race in order to make a profit off the addiction.
Roger Rabbit gives us a similar theme although again keeping to the concept of fascism where toons do not try to enslave their own kind, but cooperate in the extinction of their race the way some supposedly good people of the 1930s – even apparently some Jews – became collaborators with the Nazis.
In both films, we have one of the alien races as the chief villain, though in Roger Rabbit, we do not know that the man seeking to destroy the race of toons is a toon until the ending scenes.
Set in the time period of rising Fascism in Europe, Roger Rabbit also emphasized the ability of mechanized society to destroy. While we do not get a gas chamber, we get a device that will inject a deadly chemical combination into Toon Town, leaving behind the melted flesh of their former existence.
In both Alien Nation and in Roger Rabbit, the alien race interacts with humans.
In both films, the partner of the hero detective is killed by one or more of these aliens.
In Alien Nation, the detective deliberate hunts down those responsible for his partner’s death.
In Roger Rabbit, the detective seeks to avoid contact with toons, but is thrust into interacting with them anyway.
The detective in Alien Nation starts out as a racist and is gradually brought around to appreciating the aliens – aka Huck Finn.
The detective in Roger Rabbit once loved toons, but feels betrayed by a toon’s murdering his partner. This might well be a metaphor for the Black-Jewish relationship that soured with the rise of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. And this detective’s struggle is to restore his faith in that struggle.
The detective in Alien Nation deliberately teams up with the Alien he hates in order to hunt down the Aliens who killed his partner
In Roger Rabbit, the detective gets stuck with the toon he unfortunately helped set up for a murder rap and out of guilt must try and vindicate him, and in doing so, must delve back into the community he so desperately sought to avoid.
In both movies, the detectives feel someone responsible for the deaths of their partners.
Alcohol plays a role in both films. Both detectives resort to drinking as a cure for their personal alienation. In Roger Rabbit, alcohol becomes a plot device in several ways. The deteriorated detective must take the job that helps frame Roger Rabbit because drinking and depression had destroyed him for more respectable jobs. The symbolic giving up of drinking serves to show his reformation when he pursues villains into Toon Town.
Alcohol in Alien Nation – well, sour milk for the alien detective – serves as a means of bonding as both alien and human discover mutual pain.
When Roger Rabbit drinks, he gets launched like a rocket, serving as a plot device for avoiding being executed mid-point in the film.
Yet Roger Rabbit and his detective are both as alienated as their counter parts are in Alien Nation, struggling to deal with powerful social forces threatening to consume them.
Grief plays a huge role in both the detective from Alien Nation and Roger Rabbit. While the Alien Nation detective clings to his old life and ruin of an apartment, preserving every answering machine tape on which his daughter expresses love, the detective in Roger Rabbit leaves his old office as it was when his partner last left it, down to the unmoved desk items.
Both films feature very seductive alien leading ladies and both leading ladies put on a seductive show, and eventually seek to seduce the detectives – leaving both detectives overheated and uncomfortable. The leading lady in Roger Rabbit, of course, plays a much more pivotal role in the overall plot development, they are very similar characters.
The detective in Roger Rabbit also has another principle female character, a love interest to whom he is destined to return. The daughter of the detective serves a similar resolution role.
In both films the super human aliens have similar vulnerabilities. Whereas sea water dissolves the aliens in Alien Nation, an acid-like solution does as much for toons in Roger Rabbit.
In both films, the villains provide a demonstration of the witch-like-melting ability. The villain in Alien Nation dumps an uncooperative alien into the sea, and the villain in Roger Rabbit demonstrates on an innocent pair of toon shoes.
Both films conclude with battle scenes involving the dissolution of the village, who in Roger Rabbit turns out to be the toon that killed the detective’s partner, as in a less direct manner, did the alien in Alien Nation.
Both detectives are struggling to save a people of a culture they formerly hated, while pitted against super human strength. While both detectives are aided by the aliens they choose to save, in the end, they face the test of danger alone, and in both cases, rise to the occasion.