Review: Species

Government scientist Sir Ben Kingsley oversees the fatal gassing of what appears to be a very frightened young girl (Michelle Williams). Named Sil, she manages to escape and quickly shows us that she’s no ordinary girl, but a human-alien hybrid created after SETI received alien messages containing alien DNA code. Sil also happens to be growing at a rapid rate and soon played by a debuting Natasha Henstridge. Hoping to contain the situation before Sil can find a male to breed with, Kingsley assembles a team to track her down. The team includes freelance ‘problem solver’ Michael Madsen, empath Forest Whitaker, molecular biologist Marg Helgenberger, and anthropologist Alfred Molina.

A great B+ cast is mostly misused in this formulaic, unimaginatively-plotted 1995 sci-fi/horror outing from Aussie-born journeyman director Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out”, “Thirteen Days”, “The Recruit”, “The Bank Job”). Well-shot and lit by cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak (later the director of “Exit Wounds” and “Doom”), and the score by Christopher Young (“Hellraiser”, “Drag Me to Hell”, “Priest”) is the definite highlight. It has its moments but for the most part it’s…generic. Very, very generic. The initial concept may be fine (if sounding a bit like a porno), but the film does the least interesting thing with it. It’s a combination of manhunt movie and fish-out-of-water alien movie. Hardly riveting or fresh stuff. It’s also about 20 minutes too long, features way too many characters in the underdone Dennis Feldman (bombs like “The Golden Child” and “Virus”) script, and Natasha Henstridge is pretty uninteresting in the all-important role of Sil.

It’s not the complete “Aliens” rip-off that I seemed to recall from when I was 15 (there’s elements of “Terminator 2”, “The Hidden”, and several others as well), but there’s definitely some elements familiar from that franchise. The opening credits, the participation of H.R. Giger (“Alien”) in the visual design, and one ‘alien goes amok in a confined space’ scene is directly lifted from “Aliens”. That definitely can’t be denied. Whether you call it an “Aliens” rip-off or not, it’s certainly not very inspired, and leaves a helluva talented cast (and Marg Helgenberger) with not all that much to do. I was quite impressed with a pre-“Dawson’s Creek” Michelle Williams as the young Sil, even though someone cocked up in the casting by having dark-eyed Williams somehow morph into the clearly blue-eyed Natasha Henstridge. You kinda wish the whole film was about the young Sil, to be honest. I guess Sir Ben Kingsley isn’t miscast, and his American accent is better than usual, but we all know he’s been slumming since the late 80s (aside from “Schindler’s List” and a few others) and this is no exception. The best casting in the film is actually Forest Whitaker as an empath, though his character is all cliché. Alfred Molina is pretty likeable too, but his character’s actions make one question his supposed intelligence at one crucial point. Michael Madsen isn’t bad casting as a shadowy ‘problem solver’, but he’s also basically our leading man, and that’s a little less comfortable for veteran sleaze Madsen. He’s OK, just…a little tough to get your head around. Marg Helgenberger, like Henstridge proves to be pretty inadequate in a major role here. Truth be told even if you cast that role perfectly it still wouldn’t help much. That’s because after everyone’s introduced, they’re forced to fight for screen time in a film that is constantly on the go and doesn’t take the time to develop any of the characters anyway. As for the special FX, they’re a bit of a mixed bag at best. I’m not sure just how much involvement FX supervisor Richard Edlund (“Star Wars”, “Ghostbusters”, “Big Trouble in Little China”) and alien creature designer H.R. Giger had on set, but the FX are certainly much better conceptually than in actuality. The ideas are fascinating, but they look very 1993-1996, which I guess is exactly what they are. They’ve definitely dated. The film is nice and gory at times, but most of it is after the fact, which isn’t as much fun. However, any film where an alien grows tentacles out of its tits can’t be entirely bad.

Generic, boringly scripted sci-fi/horror-thriller with some interesting conceptual ideas put to not terribly thrilling use. A huge cast is left mostly hanging, and the whole thing goes on for far too long.

Rating: C


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