Our review of Species: Special Edition, published November 15th, 2004, is also available.
Men cannot resist her. Mankind may not survive her.
In talking about Species, people really misunderstand the point. Sil is simply a stunningly beautiful alien with overdeveloped biological urges. Is this a crime nowadays? I for one am grateful that the director chose not to shy away from the graphic depiction of Sil's body during her quest to lose her virginity. It sends a clear message: this movie should not be taken too seriously. The fact that we get a great cast who clearly enjoy hamming their way through the ridiculous plot makes this one of the best B movies I have seen in a while.
Facts of the Case
In a "classically" super-secret government compound, a beautiful but frightened girl named Sil lives in a plastic box. This is no ordinary girl; she is the genetic result of alien blueprints sent from outer space. She is betrayed by the government researchers who created her, and must escape to survive. Coincidentally, she escapes just as a metamorphosis begins and her accelerated biological clock kicks in. She is compelled to procreate in order to spawn an extraterrestrial invasion force.
While this beautiful-woman/deadly-alien combo meal is meandering about looking for a viable mate, the secret government agent in charge of the "alien test tube baby project" (Ben Kingsley as Xavier Fitch) throws together a crack team of fine actors. They are given strict instructions to portray caricatures of their better roles from other films. Thus we have Michael Madsen as the tough, unflappable bounty hunter/cleaner; a legitimate Mr. Blonde if you will. Marg Helgenberger does the tough investigative scientist act that has helped CSI to the top of the television heap. Forest Whitaker winces and shudders his way through as an "empath," which is to a full-fledged psychic as Species is to Alien. (Think Christopher Walken as the trivial psychic on Saturday Night Live.) Rounding out the team is Alfred Molina as a dweeby academic who is apparently some sort of anthropologist.
The chase is on. This ragtag band of experts pursues the ultra-horny alien through hotels, nightclubs, and ritzy mansions, always showing up in the nick of time to clean up some mess or another. They somehow manage to keep their prey from "signing the deal," which forces her to pull a few tricks of her own. She targets the hunters and it escalates into a full scale war for survival. Will the team catch up to her before she has sex?
I think this is what happened on set when Roger Donaldson yelled "Cut!" Marg punched Michael in the shoulder as they made faces at each other and ended up in tears of flirtatious laughter. Beg Kingsley ran his hand across his forehead, wincing and cursing his agent under his breath. Forest skimmed over the script and cussed while he got advice from Alfred on how to pull off his character. The blood-drenched extra pulled himself off the floor into a sitting position and cracked jokes, which sent everyone to laughing again. Then Michael said "Shut up everybody! Here comes Roger!" and everyone tried to compose themselves for the next shot.
This movie has some unforgivably bad dialogue and plot conventions. Not conventions in the sense of prosthetically clad Trekkies in search of Marina Sirtis' autograph, which would have been amusing. No, I mean conventions in the sense of "Hey folks, we're running the risk of coming up with something truly creative here. Let's not alienate our audience! Search the overworked cliché database and get back to me." This is a real shame, because the movie hints at truly rich, innovative material underneath. They could have exploited Xavier's remorse at creating, raising, and trying to hunt down and kill Sil. Sil is psychologically complex, as her human psyche contends with the cunning, remorseless predator she has become. There could have been a great scene between creator and created where he attempts to connect with her before being kindly, brutally decapitated. This movie squanders creative opportunity.
In spite of the frequent cringe moments, this is a really enjoyable romp.
The actors somehow manage to hide their laughter and show chemistry. Perhaps not
real chemistry—chemistry on par with "I can't believe it's not
butter." Not too bad when there's no real butter in the fridge. Marg and
Mr. Madsen conjure up sparks out of the thin air of the script. Michelle
Williams of Dawson's Creek fame is remarkable as the young Sil. She
really holds the first part of the movie together, aided by Ben Kingsley's sure
Seriously, this movie aims higher than most B films but lower than the A films it emulates. Call it a B+ film. The clichés contain enough substance to make the movie seem clever at times. The escape from the installation is dramatic and sneaky. Watching Sil interact with people can induce tension because you cannot predict the next mood swing. There is a lab scene and some hunter/prey scenes that worked. I found myself rooting for both Sil and the team chasing her, which is the formula that makes The Fugitive so successful.
A note about the team is in order. Once you get past the absolute ridiculousness of the premise, the team interactions hold their own. There is uncertainty, mistrust, admiration, lust, jealousy, guilt, and camaraderie among them. These are not poor actors, and they bring some respectability to the proceedings. I felt the sorriest for Forest Whitaker. He had a role that was written so badly, I was convinced he was going to die a bloody death early. An example: The team enters a blood-spattered, corpse-ridden train car to find a really grody cocoon. Dan the empath, in his best trivial psychic imitation, announces that "something bad happened here." Thanks for clearing that up, Danny boy.
There is a point in this film where all pretenses of originality vanish: the showdown in the sewers. I can only hope that the writer and director were trying to make a statement about Sil's descent into alien malevolence. What we are left with is cardboard cutouts pursuing a derivative CGI/rubber alien through a generic sci-fi labyrinth. The producers like to point out that the alien was designed by H.R. Giger, which is really cool. What would have been cooler is some, any, shred of continuity with the previous hour and a half. The final insult is the last scene, a rat with a four-foot long tongue. We aren't even granted the artificial ambiguity of wondering whether or not she spawned. No, that four foot rat tongue slaps you in the face and says "No need to wonder: Sil had muppet babies. Watch your ass humanity. By the way, stay tuned for Species II: Showgirls in Heat."
This movie sounds good. Dialogue is distinct. The score relies on a tried-and-true recipe to generate suspense: a little bit of Psycho, a pinch of Jaws, a dash of sweeping melody. Overall the score is pleasing and fits the movie well. Helicopters are omnipresent in Species. They sound impressive, over and over again. The only real issue I had was with the first club scene. The bass got really boomy and discordant. Later club scenes sounded better. There aren't any groundbreaking sonic elements, but the sound effects worked. The surrounds are used primarily in scene cuts.
The video shows the occasional film artifact, but overall the picture is clean and non-grainy (if not overly crisp). The style is reminiscent of glossy fashion photography at times, with good lighting and color saturation. Some of the dark scenes had a greenish cast. In one scene, Marg was clad in a pinstripe suit that caused a prolonged moiré that was fun to watch. It looked like her shoulders were being beamed directly to sick bay.
The extras are weak. There is a grainy artifact-fest for a trailer. The booklet contained in the CD case is an informative collection of snippets from press releases. One thing I found ironic was that they admitted how rushed the creature shots were.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A case can be made that this movie is simply bad. That the actors phoned in generic performances, particularly Kingsley and Whitaker. That the writer had a good core idea but was too lazy to develop it. That the producers eschewed originality in favor of booms and bazooms. That the director lost control of his actors, effects crews, and sensibility. That the movie teases us with a great premise but degenerates into mindless one-dimensionality. Unfortunately, all of the material witnesses for the prosecution were found in itty bitty chunks all over the witness chambers.
If you can put yourself in a mental place to enjoy this completely flawed but eminently watchable sci-fi homage, you will be rewarded with clever twists, enjoyably hammy acting, and great footage of a stunning woman in her prime. Chances are you are a fan of Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger, Natasha Henstridge, or Michelle Williams. If so, you have a decision to make: watch this movie and possibly respect them less, watch this movie and admire what they were able to do with terrible material, or forego Species in favor of their better movies. If you often have Cinemax playing in the background, you should buy this disc and enjoy it guilt-free. If you love sci-fi this one has enough originality to warrant a purchase given its low price. I admit that watched Dawson's Creek regularly because it is shot in my home state of North Carolina, and seeing Michelle Williams cry and fight her way to freedom was great.
On the count of sexual assault with a deadly weapon, the jury finds Natasha Henstridge guilty as charged. She is sentenced to a slap on the…wrist, to be meted out by his honor. On the count of conspiracy to create a B movie, we find the producer and director guilty. In addition, the court imposes a $150,000 fine for the completely gratuitous and transparent final scene which serves only to leave the door open for Species II. The rest of the cast is dismissed in light of their good behavior.
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