Ben KingsleyMichael MadsenNatasha HenstridgeSpecies
Species
Medium: film
Year: 1995
Director: Roger Donaldson
Writer: Dennis Feldman
Keywords: Species, horror, SF, boobs
Country: USA
Actor: Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger, Natasha Henstridge, Michelle Williams, Jordan Lund, Don Fischer
Format: 108 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114508/
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 31 July 2012
Natasha Henstridge gets naked. That's all anyone remembers about this film, which seems fair enough to me. If all you're looking for is "SF with boobs", rewatch Mathilda May in Lifeforce.
Is it horrible? No. Is it any good? Not particularly. It's a bit dull, but in a competent way that ticks all the boxes and launched a franchise. Species II went into cinemas in 1998, then III and IV went straight to video in 2004 and 2007. I also know of at least one unofficial sequel, Tokyo Species with Maria Ozawa, which came out this year and apparently isn't as pornographic as you'd expect.
However I was talking about the original. What's surprising about it is the talent involved in something this uninspiring. Even on top of the H.R. Giger designs, it's a strong cast. Ben Kingsley is a scientist who's grown an alien-human hybrid in his laboratory and now wants to kill her. She escapes, displaying superpowers that let her jump through bulletproof glass and twist people into pretzels. Whoops. He thus hires three scientists (Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger) and a hit man (Michael Madsen). That's quite a thespian line-up. Helgenberger's the only one I hadn't heard of and she's won an Emmy (China Beach, 1990) and a Screen Actors' Guild Award (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 2005) and has been nominated for Golden Globes. The material they're working with isn't the best, but Molina wrings out a laugh or two and Madsen's always fun as a laid-back tough guy. Whitaker has the most interesting role as a socially inept empath, but I'm afraid to say that Kingsley couldn't be said to be bringing his A-game.
Even the alien girl (Sil) is played by an Oscar-nominated actress who's since gone on to far bigger things. No, not Henstridge. Look at the child actress who's playing her for the first fifteen minutes. That's Michelle Williams, of films like Synecdoche, New York, Brokeback Mountain and My Week with Marilyn. Amusingly she and Henstridge would act together again in 2008's Deception with Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman, except that there it was Williams who was the higher-billed.
The storyline is a more explicit A for Andromeda, with an alien woman who goes around killing people and trying to breed. Apparently she can grow from an embryo to a fourteen-year-old girl in a few days, so you might be thinking she'll die of old age within a week. Nope. The movie doesn't do that. For some reason she stabilises at "sex-bomb", which is a shame because I'd have laughed my head off at a finale with a topless old great-grandmother biting people's heads off. Maybe it's a Goldfish Power? (Goldfish can grow to fit their environment, so a two-centimetre tiddler you've kept in a bowl for twenty years will become a monster if put in a garden pond.)
The good news is that Henstridge is attractive and often naked. You knew that, but it bears repeating. However the movie doesn't leer, staying on the safe side of the "dirty old man" boundary. You could show it to your wife or girlfriend and they wouldn't accuse you of showing them porn, although I don't imagine they'd say it was particularly good either.
Physically, Henstridge is well cast. Early on she borrows a uniform with a peaked cap, lending her a Nazi dominatrix air. It looks good on her. She's got the right blonde hair and cheekbones. She'd be a good Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, although she's less buxom than Dyanne Thorne. Her acting though is merely passable, creating a Sil who's sufficient for the story being told without ever creating unnecessary depth. She knows very little. She's ignorant enough to get run over by passing cars, although she learns quickly enough that she can somehow speak English. (Not sure where that came from.) However we never get a sense of a dual nature, or of any psychology much deeper than a Terminator's. Overall I neither liked her nor disliked her. She's competent. She's exactly what you'd expect, in every way.
The direction is limp. Why isn't that sewer stalking sequence scary, for instance? It should have been. It isn't. It lacks tension. The most vividly realised in the film is the nightmare train sequence and that was paid for by H.R. Giger out of his own pocket after MGM had cut it to keep costs down.
I'm not even sure Giger's designs are successful, to be honest. His nightmare visions are great, but Sil's alien form looks a bit silly. The sexual undertones to the design of Giger's Aliens were more effective than actual breasts on a Giger-style monster, which just look goofy.
There's just not much here, really. I'd have been calling it an SF horror movie had it been more skilfully made, but it's hardly even reaching that high. It's borrowing the tricks of slasher movies, but with the gimmick that the killer is an alien with boobs. In fairness though the cast are worth watching, there's a disgusting bit with thumbs and Whitaker's empath character provides some depth through his involuntary sympathies. I watched it placidly enough. It's okay. I'm sure there's far, far worse in the later movies.
"She is a child."