Judge David Johnson wonders if George Lucas has been lying to us all this time and aliens really resemble Natasha Henstridge.
Our review of Species, published February 28th, 2003, is also available.
Men can't resist her. Mankind may not survive her.
Facts of the Case
Humans: too curious for their own good. SETI, the mucho-expensive space program that transmits data into the void hoping for a callback from some extraterrestrials, has finally coughed up something worthwhile. Scientists have retrieved instructions to clone some DNA from outer space, and like idiots—er…investigative scholars—injected the genetic frappe into a human embryo. Three embryos accepted the infusion, two of which were put on ice (cough sequel cough). One was allowed to grow.
Maturation was on the fast-track, and before the scientists could say "Uh, maybe this wasn't such a good idea," an adolescent alien/human hybrid (named Sil) breaks free of her lab setup and heads for the hills. After a slimy pupa stage, she emerges as a bodacious, fully-grown blonde woman (Natasha Henstridge, Maximum Risk), and begins a quest to find a mate, get knocked up, and thus produce an Earth-killing breed of half-alien people.
Meanwhile, a government agency, under the auspices of Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley, Sneakers) puts together a crack squad of experts to track down Sil. Along for the ride are a couple of doctors, Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2) and Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger, C.S.I.), a bad-ass with the ridiculous action-guy name of Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen, Kill Bill), and a goofy empath named Dan Smithson (Forest Whitaker, Good Morning Vietnam).
Can our intrepid crew intercept Sil before she makes good on her relentless sex drive, or will the Earth be reduced to a bunch of horny men inadvertently fathering a human-ending species?
The chase is on, and what awaits are narrow misses, brutal killings, explosions, nipple-tentacles, and, of course, lots and lots and lots of nudity.
Did I mention the nudity? I recall going to the Uptown Theatre in Utica, New York accompanied by a few of my idiot high school friends, nestling into the outrageously uncomfortable seats, and waiting for Species to begin. The film's reputation had preceded it, which was made abundantly clear during the opening credits: when Natasha Henstridge's name flashed across the screen there were simultaneous shouts of "hooters!!!" from the male audience members.
Species is the end-run for guys too self-conscious to rent soft-core porn. But underneath the flesh lies an uneven, though often entertaining, okay B-movie, which wanders into the realm of hokiness too much for its own good. In essence one long chase scene, Species powers itself by putting the heroes within grasping distance of their prey, only to instead find mutilated corpses and/or undergarments strewn about.
Which brings us to the nudity. Yes, there is a ton of it. However, I'm still undecided as to whether Natasha Henstridge's breasts were flung about in excess. The sex serves the story—this is about an extraterrestrial trying to copulate after all—but much like Showgirls, the nudity becomes desensitizing. Maybe that's a sign that we're heading toward Gratuitousville.
The sci-fi horror elements may be overshadowed by the boobs and all, but there is some cool stuff to be found here. Sil can really unleash the violence in her alien state, and the gore that follows is generous. Witness the club-hopper competing with her for male attention getting ripped apart by a giant alien arm while she's on the toilet! Or dig the hapless hot tub stud gang-raped by a bunch of tentacles! And when the climax finds Sil dashing about as her alien self, get a load of those extendable nipples that can pick up a grown man and strangle him!
Though the makeup and costuming is tight, the visual effects leave much to be desired. If anything dates this movie more than Marg Helgenberger's mullet it's the lackluster computer animation. The action scenes featuring computer-animated Sil are laughable; and though the technology may have been cutting-edge at the time, it will surely evoke only chortles at its expense today.
The acting is fun and appropriately goofy; it helps that the cast is stocked with recognizable faces—maybe not mega-stars, but people you know. Michael Madsen overdoes his hard-ass routine, but that's okay. Forest Whitaker is flaky; pre-Doc-Ock Alfred Molina makes his character a real pathetic loser (whose sexual angst leads to the potential doom of mankind); and Ben Kingsley plays it straight, which comes off fairly pretentious, especially when he talks about the ludicrous experiment of fertilizing a human egg with alien DNA then keeping the resulting young girl imprisoned.
This is a supposedly "special edition," but it sadly lacks much that would earn it the label "special." Aside from some trailers, including one for Species 3, the only bonuses are two audio commentaries. The first features Roger Donaldson, Michael Madsen, and Natasha Henstridge. Donaldson is part of the second as well, joined by crewpeople from the visual effects and makeup department. As with most actor commentaries, the former is more light and fluffy and anecdotal, while the latter is more technically-oriented. Both commentaries share an audible awkwardness when the nudity hits, so that's funny.
Was it worth a double dip? Nope.
A crisp 2.35:1 widescreen transfer holds its own, especially in some of the darker closing action sequences. The audio mix, despite its DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 manifestations, was far from aggressive. I was surprised that no better use of the surrounds could have been teased from the channels. Too bad.
A sci-fi action flick known less for its sci-fi action than its abundant nudity, Species delivers some decent gore and suspense. But take away Natasha Henstridge and her willingness to disrobe, and you're probably left with an irrelevant B-movie.
The court realizes this may not be the breast—err, best alien movie out there and doesn't do many nude—I mean new things, but it certainly isn't unbareable—err, unbearable. Screw it, I better nip this one in the bud.
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Scales of Justice
• Two Audio Commentary Tracks
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