I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Species

tn_species“Don’t go. Please! I want a baby.”

SPECIES is one of these movies of the ’90s that isn’t very good but that represents a weird enough collision of influences to be interesting. It’s a studio genre movie so it has an all-star cast. Ben Kingsley (PRINCE OF PERSIA, BLOODRAYNE) leads the government monster hunt, and his team of specialists is Forest Whitaker (BLOODSPORT), Michael Madsen (BLOODRAYNE), Alfred Molina (PRINCE OF PERSIA) and Marg Helgenberger (FIRE DOWN BELOW).

Behind the scenes they got a couple of legit horror technicians in the mix: composer Christopher Young, whose eerie score is very similar to what he did for HELLRAISER, and monster designer H.R. Giger does his biomechanical thing like in ALIEN, but this time with bonus eyes and boobs. This was the first time his creatures got the computer animation treatment, an exciting development in those days. It was only two years after JURASSIC PARK and just doing everything digitally was still in the future, they had to put in some effort to do it so it was usually a big deal. The digital parts look almost charmingly crude now, but luckily they got puppets and costumes in there too, like you did back then.

mp_speciesThe story is about Sil, a human looking alien girl created in a lab on earth by government scientists who got the DNA sequence from SETI and combined it with a human embryo. I mean, what else were they supposed to do.

You know how it is with kids, they grow up so fast. When they’re a pre-teen it seems like they were born only 3 months ago. I mean that literally of course, that’s how fast Sil grows. So they start to get cold feet, they try to gas her and she punches her way out of the glass box they got her living in like she’s David Blaine.

So Sil is on the loose and maturing by the hour, with unknown powers, weird things moving around inside her, and dreams of Giger creatures humping. She has an instinct to reproduce fast, so she starts looking for a man. And she’s very attractive when she’s in human form so you expect most of them aren’t gonna complain, but the danger is if she scares them or the team is on her tail she might end up twisting their necks or tongue-impaling them. She hasn’t learned to be gentle yet.

As a young girl she’s played by Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams (HALLOWEEN H20), then she builds a cocoon and comes out Natasha Henstridge (GHOSTS OF MARS). The movie is shot like boring TV, no sense of atmosphere at all (sorry, cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak), and the team of experts mostly sit around like idiots with nothing to do. Whitaker is probly the goofiest, being an “empath” whose job is to feel everything real deeply or something. Also Molina has to do a scene where he’s a big nerd thinking he’s getting laid without even trying. And it’s near the end of the movie, way after he should know better.

Madsen’s character is the biggest joke though: he keeps showing off about being this secret dirty job motherfucker that the government only calls in when they need to kill someone who’s really hard to kill, and then all that means is he has a handgun that he pulls out later. I mean, there is nothing at all to prove he’s any more valuable to this than the average cop. Then again, he spends the whole movie flirting with Helgenberger. Maybe he does more when he’s not distracted. This is a pretty stupid movie.

But I kinda like it ’cause I like Sil, she’s a good monster in the classical tradition. It’s not her fault. She doesn’t know better, she’s just following her mating instincts and defending herself from people who really are trying to kill her.

Some people are nice to her, especially women – an employee on a train, the clerk at a dress store (where I thought she was gonna buy a fancy wedding dress and just wear it around, which I guess is what she does but it’s sort of this poofy thing that could pass for just ugly) – but once she tries to jump head first into the L.A. dating scene she has more trouble.

I like how this monster walks obliviously into all this sexism. It started with her very conception, when she was engineered as a female because the scientists thought that would make her “more docile and controllable,” according to Kingsley. That turns out to not be the case, in my opinion.

She finds out that a club is where to pick up a man, and the doorman lets her cut past the line, saying “You. Legs. You’re in.” She has to compete with other women, and ends up taking her shirt off and walking around the club with just a bra. Nobody says anything. After going home with a guy even Sil starts to get second thoughts, and the guy doesn’t understand that no means no. Don’t worry, he gets what he deserves.

The funniest part is after Sil gets a glimpse of Michael Madsen and then he shows up walking handsomely into her biomechanical sex dream. She has a crush on him!

Speaking of dreams, it should be noted that there’s one with a, uh, Giger train. You know, with teeth and veins and ribs and everything. I read that Giger was really bummed they only showed a quick glimpse of it. He really believed in it. Years later they almost re-used the design for POLAR EXPRESS. I made that up. But it’s true.

Oh, here’s a pretty inventive part. Instead of the thing where they are suddenly frightened by a cat jumping out they do it with a squirrel. This is a whole new ballgame, people.

Director Roger Donaldson was coming off his pretty decent remake of THE GETAWAY, which also had Michael Madsen in it. I don’t think this speaks highly of his directational skills. It’s interesting to compare it to UNDER THE SKIN, since both are about incredibly hot, often naked alien women seducing guys and killing them and they have no chance of escape because of boner. They’re sci-fi movies about the fear of female sexuality, except one is vague and arty and the other one is mainstream and bland and normal.

Well, to be fair there are some weird bits in SPECIES, and not all of them in Sil’s dreams. Like there’s the part where Whitaker sees a mid-transformation species baby just kickin it in the sewer.

still_species

You gotta respect that. But for the most part they have opposite approaches to similar material. Everything that’s in UNDER THE SKIN is missing in this one: mood, atmosphere, style, eeriness, naturalism, tension, mystery, believable human characters. It does have all those other things that are purposely so light in UNDER THE SKIN: talking, explanations of what’s going on, etc.

It’s too bad we can’t have a mixture of the two. I think SPECIES actually has some great satirical ideas about gender going on beneath the surface, but they come across kinda weird, almost like they’re not supposed to be funny, even though I think they are. For what it’s worth, writer Dennis Feldman’s previous movies were all pretty comedic: JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, THE GOLDEN CHILD and REAL MEN (also director). Since then all he’s done is VIRUS with Jamie Lee Curtis.

This would actually be a good candidate for a remake by someone smart enough to focus on that subtext and skilled enough to do better than this.

P.S. Did you guys know that the legendary chupacabra is actually Sil? At least that’s what the author Benjamin Radford concluded. The first eyewitness account basically described the monster in the movie, happened a month after the movie came out and the witness admitted to having seen it. I don’t know if that means the chupacabra is trying to make a baby with all those goats she’s sucking or what. But it’s interesting I think.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 at 11:27 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Species”

  1. Part two is gorier, goofier and more fun, but it does lack the star power you seem to enjoy. Still, I know you’re not afraid of movies with numbers in the title, so you should give it go.

  2. I don’t know much much real computer animation was in the movie, but I think I remember seeing a making of when the movie came out, where they showed how the FX crew used motion controlled miniature rod puppets for some of Sil’s jumpy climby moments. (Which was also a technique they used in ALIEN³)

  3. Apparently Giger hated the CG version of Sil in the movie. I have one of his books that is all of the design work he did for movies and he specifically bitches about how the CG Sil looked like an “ugly frog” compared to his “beautiful, translucent” sculpted version.

    It ain’t high art, but I gotta say I always dug this flick.

  4. this is my favorite alien/human sex movie. my number 2 is Showgirls. do you guys remember the sex scene in the pool in showgirls? its like the one in Species but i think elizabeth berkely thrashing around like a washing machine on spin cycle is WAY SCARIER….

  5. I agree – this is the perfect movie to remake, since the original has a great, fun concept ripe with satirical/metaphorical possibilities, but the script seems a few drafts away from completion. I really like the idea of pitting a psychic person against an alien, but it’s never even clear if Whitaker has powers or not (his psychic ability leads them down the wrong tunnel at the end, i think). Kingsley’s pretty awesome too even though his Frankenstein master/creator/father figure role is pretty half-baked.

    Speaking of half-baked – what’s up with the line Helgenberger says at the end- “she was half human, half alien – i wonder which was the predatory half?”. The idea that Sil’s competitiveness/horniness/deviousness actually came from the human DNA and not the alien (who could actually be good guys as far as we know) is pretty thought-provoking but also never explored or even touched upon (and negated by the events of the sequel(s) anyway).

    I do think it’s cool that every principal cast member has gone on to critical and commercial success, and is still actively working (there’s not really any bad performances), but I also like that Species’ greatest legacy is…The Chupacabra?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chupacabra

    “A five-year investigation by Benjamin Radford concluded that the description given by the original eyewitness in Puerto Rico, Madelyne Tolentino, was based on the creature Sil in the science-fiction horror film Species. The alien creature Sil is nearly identical to Tolentino’s chupacabra eyewitness account and she had seen the movie before her report”

  6. SPECIES II was truly a terrible DTV level sequel

  7. But SPECIES 3 & 4 were even worse!

  8. this is one of those movies where, along with it’s sequels, I must’ve seen the cover of a hundred times when browsing through video stores as a kid, but was never allowed to rent it because of the nudity, when I later did try to watch it as a teen I thought it was pretty terrible and stopped watching it after Natasha Henstridge got naked, because then I just felt like I was wasting my time

    if there’s one thing that wasn’t that great about the 90’s, it’s that it wasn’t a very good decade for horror, was it? other than very early 90’s standouts like JACOB’S LADDER and CANDYMAN the only really good horror movie I can think of is THE SIXTH SENSE

  9. The serial killer was the prom king of 90’s horror thanks to Dr Lecter and John Doe. Other highlights for me were RAVENOUS and most of John Carpenters output, VAMPIRES being the best.

  10. SPECIES IV: THE AWAKENING actually wasn’t that bad in my opinion.

  11. Favorite LOL moment was the keen intuition of psychic Forrest Whitaker, walking into a room dripping with blood: “Something bad happened here.”

  12. I read an interview with Giger years ago where he said how he always hated that Hollywood movies always end with the monster getting destroyed by fire. So he had this whole thing where Sil has this high-resistance to heat and goes this pearly translucent colour when the humans try to flame thrower her. Not that that little quirk – among many, many others – ended up in the film.

  13. There was a SPECIES IV? How did I miss this?

  14. One thing that “Species” did pretty well in my opinion was show Li’l Sil’s learning experience; she’s one of the smarter monsters out there. She goes from monosyllabic hobo-child who doesn’t peel bananas before eating them to manipulative con artist in less than a week. Her scenes in the first half of the movie are pretty much her observing things humans do and mimicking them to blend in. Those boring shots with convenience stores, train conversations, motel TV, etc., provide Sil with a crash course in Humans 101. A credit card swiper. Cash money. A hair dye commercial. New vocabulary. A porno. An explosive car crash on TV. Sil files it all away and uses it to her advantage. The cinematography in her scenes wasn’t atmospheric, because it’s concentrating not on what’s abnormal or alien to us, but what’s alien to Sil.

    It’s the sort of thing that would work well in a Cold War flick about a guy stranded in a foreign country who must avoid detection even though he knows nothing about the language, the culture, the customs, etc.

  15. So I’ve had some computer problems over the past few days, hence not been around.

    I’m back now, and I do like “Species” although it’s pretty dumb. (Not as dumb as the sequel though. Also, there’s a Species 3 / 4?) I do like the reading of it as a revenge fantasy of women against casual misogyny. Wish it’d been done better, but what can ya do? It still entertains me.

  16. Hey Vern, how about a LIFEFORCE review to complete the sexy naked killer alien trilogy? It’s the best of the three, in my opinion, and is more reminiscent of UNDER THE SKIN than SPECIES is. Anybody know of any others in this genre?

  17. Damn genius Blapps. Tobe Hooper does naked alien space vampire.

    I guess THE HIDDEN would count in this genre, though the alien isn’t gender specific.

  18. I lump INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS with those other three though if I recall correctly the sexy naked killers may have come from human experiments, not space. Kind of like SPLICE but with a lot more emphasis on the sexy nakedness.

  19. SPECIES 2 was pretty freaking weird. That alien sex scene was just bonkers. It was also weird that they never followed up on that rat from the end of the first one. Or at least I don’t remember that ever being addressed. Never really saw these movies more than once and the only reason I saw the original was cause I was 12 and you know “the chick is almost always naked” had great appeal to me.

    I do remember Forrest Whitaker going full retard at times and how that was pretty entertaining but not a patch on his BLOODSPORT work. Madsen was also pretty fun. This was like the peak of his “cool gruff voiced guy” phase that he had going with movies like RESERVOIR DOGS and THE GETAWAY. I guess the other notable thing was that it was also the only thing I remembered Marg Helgenberger from before she played female co-star to Seagal a couple of years later in a superior movie.

  20. Did anybody here end up seeing MORGAN? I just finished watching it and I was hoping that someone else could confirm that it does in fact turn into a shitty Olivier-Megaton-directed action movie in the second half and I didn’t just imagine it. The whole thing feels like it should fall under the “Luc Besson Presents” banner actually. Not a good movie in any respect, but probably worth watching at least one time for the scene where Paul Giamatti shows up and starts trying to force-feed the scenery to everyone on set before finally cramming it all in his own mouth and then barfing it up all over Anya Taylor-Joy.

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