Species (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The villain of Species -- a new science fiction/action/thriller/gorefest from director Roger Donaldson -- is a sexy young alien named Sil (Natasha Henstridge). For most of the film, her primary problem is a massive case of sexual frustration. Every time she starts to get intimate with a man, there's some sort of interruption -- like someone showing up shooting off a gun or threatening to kick in the door. There's only so much of this anyone can take. No wonder she's in a bad mood. As for the men she chooses... well, let's just say that Sil bears a remarkable resemblance to the Praying Mantis.

Sil's need to mate is fueled by maternal instincts, but it's bad news for humanity if she carries a child to term. Given the fast growth cycle of her race, it wouldn't take long before the indigenous populations of this planet topped the endangered species list. Sil is actually an alien/human hybrid. In 1971, Earth sent a message into space, hoping for an answer; when, some twenty years later, a response arrived that gave a recipe for "enhancing" human DNA, the scientists involved in the project didn't know that by acting on it, they were possibly engineering their own extinction.

Now, Sil has escaped her protective cage in Utah and is on her way to the City of Angels, where she's likely to blend in with all the other weirdos -- at least when she retains her alluring human shape. Her alternative form, a monstrosity straight out of the imagination of Alien creator H.R. Giger, would likely provoke at least a few stares. Hot on her trail is a small team of specialists put together by government scientist Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley): an empath (Forrest Whitaker) who acts like Counselor Troi from Star Trek the Next Generation; a pair of scientists (Alfred Molina and Marg Helgenberger) with all the answers, and a hunter (Michael Madsen) whose specialty is killing. Their job is clear: destroy Sil, regardless of the cost in dollars and lives.

There are two ways to look at this motion picture. If you compare it to a sci-fi action thriller like Aliens, it comes up short. James Cameron's picture was masterful at building tension and suspense before bringing everything together in a satisfying climax. Species sticks with basic scare tactics -- things jumping out of the shadows to the accompaniment of a surge of music. There are moments of high energy, but the pace is basically one of ebb and flow, and there's not much atmosphere to speak of.

On the other hand, as a tongue-in-cheek homage to body snatching pictures, it isn't half bad. As long as you don't stop to think about what's going on, Species is capable of offering its share of cheap thrills, with a laugh or two thrown in as well. The plot is patently ridiculous, but that's where a temporary suspension of disbelief is mandatory. Don't bring logic into the mix. As a high-tech, campy action movie, this one beats Judge Dredd, hands down.

The characters are all types, but this is intentional. There's the strong, silent Preston, played by a laconic Michael Madsen. Marg Helgenberger is the self-assured woman who falls for him, Alfred Molina is the smart guy who strikes out with the women, and Forest Whitaker plays a truly annoying psychic who is constantly whining that things don't "feel right." Cast somewhat against type, Ben Kingsley is a sleazy scientist with no concept of ethics but a great love of procedure.

Director Roger Donaldson has a lot of fun with his premise. The top-notch special effects, which use a lot of seamless computer animation, make the climax look very nice. The rest of the film is essentially one long chase sequence with a couple of nude scenes and maulings added to liven up the proceedings. No matter what genre you identify Species as, it's not top of the line, but there's also quite a bit of room beneath it.

Species (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 1995-07-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1