Beautiful Ladies Of Genre: Species (1995)
If one day I went to the mailbox and there was a mysterious package waiting for me inside, I would be quite suspect of it to start. Then after getting the gumption to open it up, what if I found a letter detailing how to make the best sandwich of all time? Well, I would be intrigued. Reading on, I find out that all the ingredients needed are included in the package, and that I need only to provide my own bread to make this lunch of legend. Any bread will do, it reads, whatever you have on hand. This is where the whole affair would start to worry me. What if I had terrible bread or only pumpernickel on hand? How could they be so sure this would not affect the taste? Taking all things into consideration, I would have to abstain from making the sandwich. While I do love a good nosh, there would just be too much uncertainty involved.
If I would not make a mere mystery sandwich, why do scientists in film so readily accept instructions from aliens that they’ve never met, never seen, and have no idea what their intentions are? This is the basic premise that kicks off tonight’s film, Species (1995). The earth receives a series of transmissions giving us scientific breakthroughs followed by instructions on combining a specific DNA sequence with that of a human being. I can’t for the life of me understand why they would go along with such a plan unless they were promised a close up look at a completely nude Natasha Henstridge.
While the film features many shots of such a sight, the scientists don’t get a chance to enjoy it because the being they had named Sil (played at first by future Dawson’s Creeker Michelle Williams) escapes from its confines and gets loose in the city. The government sets up a crack team of specialists headed by the project leader Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) with a mission to track down the runaway hybrid and take it out. Over the course of a day, the young girl matures into the fully grown and quite buxom Ms. Henstridge, and begins to learn all she needs to know about human interaction from TV. It’s kind of like Starman, except she’ll kill your ass. Sil’s biological clock soon kicks on and she takes to the streets to try and find a suitable mate while the team tries desperately to track her down before she can breed.
Species should nearly just be called Specious because that’s the heading this film’s logic should be filed under. This is a film ready made to check your brain at the door because if you look beyond the surface then you’ll find there is very little there. The selling point of the film was Ms. Henstridge in various states of undress after all. Factually, even sci fi faux factually, the film contains massive plot holes, non-sensical actions, and dialog that borders on atrocious. Take for example Ben Kingley’s scientist who states that they made the experiment a woman because it would be “more controllable”. Maybe he should have taken Kipling’s advice when the poet said “the female of the species must be deadlier than the male“. Literature aside, any biologist will tell you that in most predatory species, the female is far more aggressive. So on the off chance, maybe not the smoothest move there, Dr. Science.
While the parts of the film where a naked Natasha dispatches prospective suitors is quite fun, the really enjoyable parts of the film come from the assembled team. This film got itself a hell of a cast. Forrest Whitaker shines as the team’s empath, Dan. I always like to see Forrest, and here he hams it up perfectly. Future Doc. Ock Alfred Molina plays his role as the resident anthropologist with a dry wit that perfectly fit the campy tone of the picture that was buried right under the surface. Marg Helgenburger, lately of CSI fame, doesn’t have a lot to do, but her love scene with Michael Madsen, which was improvised, is some pretty funny stuff.
That brings me to Mr. Blonde himself, Madsen, the gung ho gun toting hero of the flick. Gloriously over the top and super serious to the point of parody, even though he was weighed down with some seriously bad dialog, Madsen was the high point of the film. His character, Preston Lenoxx (what a great movie name), is the perfect model for a hero in a film like this. He’s hard boiled, unflinching, and totally prepared to get the job done. While his character’s cheesy dialog is infinitely quotable my favorite has to be, “Yeah. Tell him he’s about to copulate with a creature from outer space.” It just don’t get better than that, folks.
I suppose, seeing as she’s the featured performer, I should take a moment to talk about Natasha. I’ll admit it; I’m somewhat a fan. I’ve seen most of the episodes of She Spies (Season 1 being the best), and I’m only slightly afraid to admit it. In Species, her acting is not stellar, but the role really only requires her to alternately slink about looking sexy and/or naked. When she has to utter menacing dialog, it’s just not good. Her delivery reminded me a bit of another model turned actress, Ali Larter, and that’s not particularly a compliment. While she did get better in later roles, this first foray into film was not her shining moment.
Director Roger Donaldson’s career could be characterized as uneven at best. While he has made a few quality films (Thirteen Days, Cadillac Man), he’s also made some horrid schlock (Cocktail, Dante’s Peak, The Bank Job). Species, while silly, is also a well paced sci fi thriller, and the film moves at a brisk pace through its set pieces. He also has a boon in working with Swedish artist H.R. Giger, famously the creator of the titular Alien and an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album cover. Giger’s design for the otherworldly Sil does look like a creation that has just stepped off his canvas, and this was one of the strengths that held together the last act of the film. Sure, there were no more Henstridge boobies to ogle, but there were a pair that shot tentacles out of them. That’s got to be worth something in my book.
There’s not much else to say about Species except that it’s a really enjoyable piece of nonsense. Never rising above the average as a film, it works on cheesy charm alone….and I suppose to some extent boobs. Species is not a film that will change your life or give you any deeper understanding of the mysteries of the universe, but it will entertain the hell out of you for ninety minutes. So check this one out, and remember, don’t make any sandwich that I wouldn’t make.