A message from outer space contains instructions on how to modify human DNA.
“Species” is a hard film to be ambivalent about for many people. It’s been my experience that whenever I mention Species in some circles that I usually get a “Oh God that movie sucked.” or I get “Damn, that movie was so awesome! That Sil chick was hot!” Yeah, those kinds of responses. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a very deep debate regarding Species for some reason. I gather it’s because it falls into some categories that many people can easily identify with and not get very heady or complicated while discussing it. The guilty pleasure is that one category for me that Species kind of falls into. Not because many people disregard it though. Species does have some merit. Some of those I will get into but I wanted to make clear that with films like “Lifeforce” from Tobe Hooper and even maybe “The Puppet Masters” it is a film that you just take what you need from it and disregard the rest. Films in this light can often then be chastised by more non – Sci Fi movie goers as disposable junk. I for one didn’t find it disposable in the least…just a bit silly. Silly with some moments of light and pleasant B movie fun thrown in for good measure. I’m going in giving the film it’s due respect and even if it tries to overachieve, I can’t really fault the movie makers for that. Maybe it was an oversight.
Species was directed by Roger Donaldson who has more than once hit the target and delivered some tasty goods. He directed the steamy and under rated film The Getaway as well as the brilliant Thirteen Days and Dante’s Peak. Donaldson is no stranger to putting together a solid actioner with a diverse cast and breezy stories. The seminal Kevin Costner film No Way Out is proof of that. The movie was released in 1995 with a pretty decent press campaign pushing it up and out into the Sci Fi world. The film for most of it’s running time consists of a variety of scientists trying to chase down an alien woman who is desperate to mate and reproduce. Sounds corny already doesn’t it?
In order to gel all of this together we get some corny banter and fast and loose action that is satisfying but not very memorable. Donaldson gives us a great ensemble cast to watch like Ben Kingsley as Prof. Fitch, Micheal Madsen as “Press” Lennox, Marg Helgenberger as Dr Baker, Forest Whitaker as the empath Smithson and Alfred Moilna as Doc Arden. The story involves a clandestine bunch of scientists sending out transmissions into the cosmos aka the “Arecibo” transmission. In the messages there are complicated theories, formulas and even DNA structure etc etc. They get back a response from an intelligent source that comes up as a process to create convert energy into endless supplies of fuel. So they think these ET guys are all nice and cuddly, right? Wrong. It seems as the next transmission is done being analyzed they discover alien DNA patterns and how to splice them together with Human DNA. This is where Prof Fitch gets involved as the lead Geneticist. With SETI backing him up, his hope is to create a female hybrid ala the X-Files with “more docile and controllable” traits. The result of their hard work is the mysterious “Sil”
Sil, played by a young Michelle Williams, immediately shows strange signs of rapid growth while in her containment. In just a couple of months she grows to the size of a 12 year old girl. Her violent night-time outbursts and behavior causes some grief among the scientists though and when she displays a very angry and dangerous side, things go a bit haywire. Unfortunately because of this she is deemed a threat. The team tries to eliminate her using a poisonous gas and she subsequently crashes through the glass of the containment center. In a smooth and very well cut together action moment, Sil leaps and crashes through the huge glass and runs like the dickens through the facility.
She eventually makes it over the fences and dodges agents and soldiers alike in a quick but elaborate chase in the night. She makes her way to the nearest Train station and gets aboard an express headed to LA. After her escape, Fitch puts together a crack team to hunt her down. Madsen and Helgenberger are nicely paired here opposite Kingsley and when they are onscreen there seems to be a bit of chemistry. Whitaker as the “empath” seems a bit silly and he is a bit off putting at first. Molina like always is a lot of fun to watch. Unknown to the group, Sil holes up in a train compartment and cocoons herself where she has some wicked and strange “Alien” dreams and nightmares. Mostly about having sex and procreating. After a brief time she emerges a full grown blonde woman with a strong sexual appetite. Actress / Model Natasha Henstridge (Ghosts Of Mars) plays the adult Sil and she does a pretty damn good job at it. After she gets a uniform from an unsuspecting Train conductor she gets off in LA and all bets are off!
The team track her down but they seem to always be one step behind her. She kills a diabetic dude she tries to mate with and another LA club goer in his pool. She is on a mission and she is hard to keep up with. Press and Laura (Helgenberger) show up but she escapes running nude through the woods and she finds another woman in a car and after feigning being raped she takes over the car and tries to fake her death in order to fool and evade Fitch, Press and the rest of the team.
By now we are knee deep in some fast and inventive action but it all feels a bit hollow in parts as if the material here written by Dennis Feldman (Species II, The Golden Child) is taking plays from the “by the numbers” playbook. It all comes across as quite methodical and lacking some depth. Feldman and Donaldson try to provide some fine character interaction and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For example we get interchanges like this – Doc Baker – “ I got his machine. Should I leave a message? ” Press – “Yeah. Tell him he’s about to copulate with a creature from outer space.” Yeah, stuff like that. In some respects it may come across as tongue in cheek but ocassionally it falls flat. Or take this one as well – (Upon unwittingly having sex with Sil) Dr Arden says: “Now, I know in some South African tribes women believe they know the exact moment of conception, but really…” Molina is so damn great to watch though so I excused him some of the cringe inducing dialog. The cast make an admirable attempt to really make this all sound brainy but it’s simply corny. At times I felt as if they movie was winking at me as if forcing me to either laugh or frown.
Species isn’t a visionary sci fi film. It’s corny and hokey but still retains plenty of it’s charm whenever Sil is onscreen strutting her stuff. The movie is indeed sexy, maybe not as sexy, as say, Matilda May in “Lifeforce” but it comes pretty damn close. Henstridge is great to look at and her more forceful and violent sequences are handled with precision thanks to Donaldson’s keen direction. The film is cliched at times like when we are served with some of Whitaker’s obvious and dull observations. Like: “She’s been here!” Um…no duh! His character was just infuriating.
The rest of the cast like Kingsley fare better adding some class and seriousness to the proceedings. By the time they track Sil down into the sewers and we are treated to some great early CGI make up and cool HR Giger designed Alien action we are already a step ahead. We forsee the ending quite easily. No big deal though. It’s still good B movie fun to be had. It has a decent pace, gory FX, a cool score by Christopher Young ( Drag Me To Hell and Spider Man 3) and the smooth photography by Andrzej Bartkowiak (Speed and The Devil’s Advocate) is steady, dark and menacing. An unrelentless and goofy watch, you could do much worse than “Species” on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Sit back and enjoy Sil’s insane pro-creation antics!