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Species (1995)

by on 2011/01/24

It seems as if Species won’t leave me alone.  Wherever I go, I see it:  in stores, on lists, mentioned in the company of legitimate genre classics like Alien and Predator.  In truth, it doesn’t even belong with Alien vs Predator.  It’s frustrating because it had so much potential:  an intriguing premise, a great cast, and the visual designs of H.R. Giger.

While I may have seen the original release, I’m not as certain now.  I vaguely remember enjoying it though, years later, I bought it, hated it, resold it, regretted it, rebought it, and regretted it all over again.  When I began this viewing, I hoped my greatest criticism would be that the morphing effects had not aged particularly well.  The visuals, however, were among the least of its issues.

I did find the first act promising.  In November 1974, Arecibo transmits a universal greeting . . . true story, incidentally.  Then, in January 1993, Australia gets a response.  (Not a true story.)  The response includes instructions for the creation of new DNA, which scientists splice into a hundred human cells.  Seven  replicate, three survive, and one is cultivated.  Its designation S1L earns it the name “Sil”.

Later, when young Sil (Michelle Williams) frightens her captors, they try to destroy her.  She promptly escapes and evolves into a more mature form, played by Natasha Henstridge.  Despite being plagued by surreal reptilian nightmares, she learns quickly, and develops abilities to shape-shift, heal, and go topless for scenes at a time.

A team is assembled to hunt her down:  the leader, Fitch (Ben Kingsley), scientists Arden and Laura (Alfred Molina and Marg Helgenberger), assassin Press Lennox (Michael Madsen), and psychic Dan (Forest Whitaker).

Let me be blunt.  Kingsley plays exactly one decent scene in the entire movie: his first.  Molina’s talent is wasted.  Press and Laura’s budding romance is made a joke by a climactic dance set to “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”.  And touchy-feely Dan has the most prominent role by far, which is fine if you felt Star Trek: The Next Generation needed more Betazed counseling.

Not that they had much to work with.  They — and by extension we — get lines like:

  • “Los Angeles is where the battle’s gonna be fought . . . and won!”
  • “She’s half us, half something else.  I wonder which is the predatory half?”
  • “She’s the cure.  We’re the disease!”

The script is just about knee-deep, not that its narrative warrants David Mamet.  After its promising first act, there’s a strange diversion.  The hunt is stopped to create a new, purely alien creature, a sequence serving no rational purpose.  The middle becomes sheer drudgery.  Around then, the movie lost my allegiance.  I continued regardless and, improbably, it got worse.  Any combination of rats, goo, and children pretty much equal Worst Third Act Ever.

But do you know what’s cool about this video?  The DVD has a triple lenticular cover.  Unfortunately, not a very good one but . . . triple!  Which pretty much says it all about Species: good ideas, poorly executed, all kinds of awesome, squandered.  Still, I’m holding on to my existing copy this time because it’s not worth buying again.

* *

Rated 18A for adult situations, frightening scenes, gore, language, nudity, violence

109 minutes

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