Species (1995)
Species (1995)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: July 7th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Roger Donaldson Actors: Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger, Natasha Henstridge, Michelle Williams

 


 

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he opening shots of space, the music (eventually transitioning into something reminiscent of Tim Burton’s works), and even the title graphics are obvious derivations of the “Alien” franchise. It’s certainly a fantastic entity to copy, so it’s not surprising that this picture would choose that series for its basis. And, of course, it also acquired legendary Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (the same man behind the banana-headed xenomorph) to design the monster. That’s undoubtedly a lot of potential for a sci-fi horror film.

In Dugway, Utah, at a secret government facility, where work for S.E.T.I. (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has been underway for decades (attempting to seek out signals from alien civilizations), a little girl (Michelle Williams) locked in a glass cage is scheduled to be gassed to death. The scientist in charge, Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley), regrets the decision, but this particular experiment has gone too far. However, he’s dealing with something he can’t possibly control – and so the child breaks free and flees, managing to board a train headed to Los Angeles.

“Hunt her down.” A bloody trail of mangled bodies awaits as the alternately curious and terrified girl encounters various people, many of whom are brutally murdered when they get in her way. It’s soon revealed that the escaped suspect isn’t a child at all – but a three-month-old hybrid of alien and human DNA, grown in a lab from information returned from unidentified origins in space. And with so many unknowns, mankind could be in serious trouble – especially if the creature accomplishes its primary goal: to mate. A team is assembled to quietly track and destroy the creature, comprised of freelance fixer Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen), Harvard anthropologist Dr. Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina), empath Dan Smithson (Forest Whitaker), and molecular biologist Dr. Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger). But their target ages rapidly, and once the alien, codenamed Sil, has emerged from a chrysalis, it resembles an adult woman (statuesque, blonde-haired, blue-eyed model Natasha Henstridge).

Though the film boasts a pretty dependable cast (even if many are recognizable B-movie players), taking their roles with enough seriousness (and providing better-than-expected performances full of natural conversations; it’s actually the human characters that save the project) to counter the inherent problems (and suspension of disbelief) of monster movies, it soon becomes apparent that it’s only partially interested in sci-fi horror. With Henstridge in the lead, frequently removing articles of clothing in a clearly gratuitous fashion, “Species” has more lascivious intentions at work. It’s not original to mix alien violence with sex, but this latest endeavor certainly ups the degrees of both of those components. The bloodshed is graphic and the nudity is extensive.

Despite the purposeful lack of comic relief and the welcome sincerity of the extraterrestrial interactions, the storytelling suffers some sizable gaps in logic, ranging from Sil’s unlikely familiarity with human customs, language, and sexuality, and her general ability to blend in through imitation – to her unexplained need to partially morph into a slimy, amphibian-like abomination every time she’s agitated or aroused. Also problematic is Smithson, who isn’t merely empathic, but also telepathic and can predict when and where people have been or will go by using extrasensory powers – something that absolutely shouldn’t be included in a movie about an alien life form. Yet there are some interesting notes to the sci-fi themes, chiefly when Sill plots clever deceptions for her pursuers, and when Laura suggests that Sil could be a biological weapon: she’s the cure if humankind is the disease. But the film is rarely interested in exploring these concepts, instead routinely returning to gore, nakedness, and even action and adventure.

The persistent morbidness serves the picture well, drawing toward a tragic, boisterous conclusion full of alien grotesqueries, gruesome demises, and big guns. Disappointingly, however, the visuals rely heavily on CG rather than practical effects, which cheapen the effectiveness of many of the gooey oddities. The finale boasts the worst of the imagery, namely when the Sil creature bounces around in full computer-animated view, losing all semblance of humanoid movement and mass – which is a shame, considering glimpses of the animatronic and woman-in-a-suit effects, intermittently obscured by shadowy sets and haunted house gimmicks, look far more convincing. The climax is shockingly poor as well, ending as if the production was halted a few scenes too quickly.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10