Should I Watch..? Species
What's the Big Deal?
Species is a sci-fi horror film released in 1995 and was directed by Roger Donaldson. The film was originally conceived by writer Dennis Feldman in 1987 and it concerns a mysterious alien creature called Sil who is hunted by a team of scientists and military personnel before she can successfully mate with a human male. The film marks the debut of Natasha Henstridge and also stars Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, and Marg Helgenberger. The alien itself was designed by Swiss artist HR Giger who was also responsible for creating the creatures in Alien (1). Despite a largely negative response from critics, the film was successful at the box office with global earnings over $113 million. It also led to a sequel in 1998 and two straight-to-DVD sequels as part of the franchise.
What's It About?
As part of the search of alien life, scientists transmitted information about Earth and our species in the hope that alien life may respond. Sure enough, they do - the first message contains details about generating an endless fuel supply while the second contains information on alien DNA as well as how to splice it with our own. Government scientist Xavier Fitch begins to experiment and soon, a human/alien hybrid is produced and named Sil. Sil looks like a normal human but rapidly ages into a twelve year old girl in a matter of months.
After becoming fearful of Sil's seemingly violent outbursts, the decision is taken to terminate Sil but she escapes and quickly disappears into the urban jungle of Los Angeles. It soon falls to a small team of experts to locate and recapture (or kill) Sil before she can successfully produce her own offspring. But Sil is far more cunning and ruthless than anyone supposes and is not afraid to kill to protect herself...
Preston "Press" Lennox
Dr Stephen Arden
Dr Laura Baker
Release Date (UK)
29th September, 1995
Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
What's to Like?
Anyone looking for anything deep won't find Species to their liking as it's basically a soft-porn reimagining of 1956's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (2). However, its true inspiration is Ridley Scott's Alien (1) and not just due to Giger's involvement designing the beastie. If you are going to rip off a sci-fi horror then that's the one I'd chose but by having the action here on Earth instead of some distant planet or spaceship, it gives the film much needed urgency. The action scenes are exciting enough and the cast also acquit themselves despite some pretty clunky dialogue. Henstridge is the real find here, even if she hasn't much to do besides look sexy and occasionally kill people.
The film isn't big or clever but anyone looking for cheap thrills could do worse. Giger's twisted creation is genuinely off-putting and gives the alien some menace that Henstridge is simply unable to provide. It's a shame that the story misses several opportunities to tell a different story beyond that of your basic slasher-flick. Why was nothing made about the info contained in the first alien message about a new fuel source? What about the ethical implications of creating a new hybrid life-form, only to try and kill it when it starts to get out-of-control? Crucially, are we supposed to be sympathetic towards Sil who has no understanding of who or where she is and is acting simply on instinct? Alas, the film never stops to ask these questions.
- In August 1995, a woman in Puerto Rico alleged that she saw the mythical chupacabra - a legendary cryptid in Central and South America - and gave a description to police. She later admitted to having watched Species beforehand after it emerged her description matched that of Sil.
- The script was originally called "The Message" and was more of a police procedural. Feldman conducted plenty of research into genetics including attending lectures at UCLA and talking to scientists working on the Human Genome project. When studios passed, he then adapted his script to be more like this film and it was soon picked up.
- Giger was so concerned that elements of the film closely matched that of Alien (1) that he successfully lobbied for script changes including the climax. Even the use of flame-throwers was dismissed because of this.
What's Not to Like?
Apart from the strong sense of deja-vu, there are several more worrying flaws with Species that are impossible to ignore. There is no disputing the fact that the film is a flagrant rip-off, even if Giger's design for the alien are supposed to be different. But even Donald Trump's PR team would struggle to shrug off the fact that Sil is essentially a Xenomorph in a slightly more feminine form. It makes the whole thing feel derivative and cheap and while I acknowledge that this is an issue with most B-movies, it's not the experience I look for in any film. I wanted to be entertained, not interested to see how much the film-makers could afford.
What's worse, I got the sense that there were some good ideas lurking in the background that weren't allowed any screen time due to the amount of violence and boobs on display. I hate it when an intelligent script is shot down to make something as basic as this and this film is about as deep as an eggcup of tears. Maybe I demand too much from movies such as this but the very least a horror film should do is make me jump. The nearest I came to jumping out of my seat was when I needed to stretch my legs and go to the toilet.
Should I Watch It?
Aficionados of trash will love Species which is gloriously stupid fun but most cinema-goers should probably get their kicks elsewhere. All of the cast deserve better than this and so do you. The film makes no attempt at asking questions of its script, instead trying to pull the wool over your eyes that it isn't a copy of better movies. These days, it looks even more derivative and frankly, feels as seedy and cheap as its more recent straight-to-DVD sequels.
Great For: bad cinema fans, teenage boys hitting puberty, fans of early sci-fi classics.
Not So Great For: serious lovers of sci-fi, actors resumes, NASA.
What Else Should I Watch?
Sci-fi has had a long history in cinema but it hasn't always been that well received. It's only recently that films such as Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (2) or 1953's The War Of The Worlds (3) have come to be regarded as classics and even certain B-movies like Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman (4) are still fondly remembered. These days, Hollywood seems to be obsessed with using special effects to provide the biggest and best spectacle instead of telling us the best stories or asking intelligent questions. Steven Spielberg's remake of War Of The Worlds (5) may have had audiences quaking in their seats but personally, I preferred the original film adaptation.
Of course, there are numerous sci-fi films that do have some brains to go with the show. Stanley Kubrick's timeless 2001: A Space Odyssey (6) remains one of the greatest films of all time and doesn't even have the decency to explain itself while Blade Runner (7) is a wonderful examination of the nature of humanity amidst the backdrop of a fetid, over-industrialised Los Angeles of the future. And for anyone looking for a good, old-fashioned scare to go with their futuristic visions, Ridley Scott directed an earlier film that may have been mentioned once or twice already...
© 2017 Benjamin Cox