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Species (1995)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

SPECIES (1995)

Starring: Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger

Written By: Dennis Feldman Directed By: Roger Donaldson

The Short Version

You weren’t planning on taking this flick seriously, were you?

Good; neither is most of the cast, but they still have respect for you and for themselves.

The premise is great, the story is thin, and the movie’s a blast.

Introducing Natasha Henstridge… and her chest.

There are lots of things wrong with Species, but it's a drive-in movie.  Just have fun.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SWISS.

So full of holes… so good anyway!


Pairs Well With...

LONG ISLAND ICED TEA.

“There’s tea in this?”

“I got his machine.  Should I leave a message?”

“Yeah.  Tell him he's about to copulate with a creature from outer space.”


You just never know which movies are going to turn into genre landmarks.  Case in point: Species.

I don’t remember seeing any advertising at all for this flick.  I just recall driving past the movie theatre on a Friday night, seeing the title Species on the marquee, and figuring that a name like that had to be either sci fi or horror, so why not?  Little did I realize that I was about to watch something that would become a classic of the modern “B movie” canon… and even with all of the money and talent that went into making this, I seriously doubt that the producers realized it at the time, either.

It was and is a pleasant surprise.

Let’s look at the highlight reel, shall we?


The premise is outstanding.  What if those signals that SETI has been sending out into space actually reached an alien intelligence… and they replied?  That is where Species begins, and it’s as solid and fascinating a science fiction premise as they come.   As our Explainer character, Fitch (Ben Kingsley), tells it, two messages came back.  The first was a description of a clean, hyper efficient power source that could supply the planet’s energy needs indefinitely.  (Of course the government has kept that under wraps.)  This convinced the Government Science People that the aliens were nice, so when the second message came through with a diagram of alien DNA and helpful instructions on how to combine it with human DNA, of course they tried it.  Guess what?  It’s not just a sci fi movie; it’s a kinda sorta horror movie, too! 

Then it gets nuts.  Awesomely nuts.  Imagine if one of the creatures from Alien was able to disguise itself a-la The Thing and its immediate objective is to get laid a-la about a zillion sci fi porn flicks.  (With the sinister purpose, of course, being to breed more aliens and then wipe out every human on the planet.)  Got it?  Great, because that’s the creature that the Government Science People were duped into spawning here!  Needless to say, she (hold on for that) escapes, so what else is there to do but put together an oddball team of Wildly Unrelated Specialists – played by Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina, and Forest Whitaker – to serve as Alien Bounty Hunters!  By following her to a cheap motel and trying to pick her up at a bar!  You just can’t make wacky stuff like this up!

H.R. Giger gets in touch with his feminine side.  Just to make it abundantly clear that the production team was more than aware of just what kind of film they were making, they hired H.R. Giger – the guy who originally designed the creature from Alien – to design the alien… which looks a lot like the creature from Alien, only with distinct facial features and prominent boobs.  (Did they know their target audience or what?)  Oh, and instead of a second mouth that juts out of its first mouth, this alien has a really massive tongue and tentacles that shoot out of its nipples.  (Ohayo, Japan!)  With that said, ridiculous as it may sound in print, in practice, the creature actually works very well as a horror monster.  (Except for the tentacles.  Those are kinda silly.)

Introducing Natasha Henstridge… and her chest.  For the monster’s human side – call her Sil – the production team chose to cast newcomer Natasha Henstridge, whose career was made by this film and who immediately took her place in the fantasies of sci fi fans everywhere, since the costume department frequently chose not to give her any clothes to wear.  Indeed, one could make a drinking game of trying to predict when her boobs show up next, and for many – including, I suspect, Henstridge herself, along with the rest of the cast and crew – the “naked Natasha” watch quickly became and remains a hilarious, all-in-good-fun sideshow to the sci fi horror proceedings.  (Not to mention extra incentive to keep watching the movie.)  But fun though it is, given the storyline, it’s not particularly gratuitous, though it does distract many people from noticing something else very important here: namely the fact that Henstridge easily delivers one of the two best performances in the film.  I’m not calling the character of Sil as presented “deep” by any means, but Henstridge makes the most of what she’s given, and her body language as Sil puzzles out her purpose for existence really is an outstanding bit of acting.  Nudity may have helped her get noticed, but talent is what has given her staying power.

The motley crew.  And then we have our team of Alien Hunters, played by a surprisingly solid list of present and future high-end talent, all of whom have the good sense to not take things any more seriously than they have to.  Oh, they respect the audience and themselves enough to be professional about it and go through the motions well (which is more than I can say for two of them when they showed up ten years later for BloodRayne), but snickers are clearly being held back, and everyone’s very much into the “B movie” swing of things.  It’s often hard to tell whether or not Michael Madsen is phoning it in, but here, he’s clearly being a deadpan ham on purpose, and for this role, that’s just perfect… especially when it comes time to awkwardly get it on with Marg Helgenberger’s character in a scene that the two actors were allowed to improvise.  Alfred Molina is delightful as the hapless nerd so desperate to have his own fun that… well, I’ll let you figure it out.  The big prize, though, goes to Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of the socially inexperienced “empath” who is the shy geek’s answer to Counselor Troi from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”  The drinking scene is priceless.

Oh, right!  The movie!  Um…  The fact that all of the players are having fun with their roles is incredibly important, because there are times when that (and other aforementioned details) is/are all that’s keeping Species going.  The premise is great, and there are indeed lots of great moments to be enjoyed here (not just “fun” ones, but genuine sci fi and horror thrills, too), but taken from a “big picture” perspective, the Chase The Alien plot is ridiculous.  At any time, Sil could avoid her pursuers – to whom she catches on pretty quickly – simply by leaving town.  Similarly, the Alien Hunters, after showing some promise at the beginning, quickly turn clueless, with only Forest Whitaker’s deus ex machina empath to save them.  (Hanging out at the club is all you’ve got besides the drunk psychic?  Really?)  Not only that, but Roger Donaldson doesn’t exactly do a bang-up job of making Species exciting through the fine art of Direction, either.  On the plus side, though, none of those negatives matter; indeed, they could easily be looked at as positives because…

“B” Movies are magic when they’re done right.  As suggested up top, you can never predict when it’s going to happen (though people like Roger Corman have better Ouija boards than most), but sometimes, the stars align and Everything Just Works.  Mediocre direction ends up allowing innately fun elements to present themselves of their own accord.  A cast that doesn’t take the story at face value lets just the right amount of snicker show through.  Things that are truly bad become “so bad they’re good,” and things that might have been bad in another film gel just right to be great in the one at hand.  The movie takes on a life of its own and really wants you to like it, and magically, it just happens.  So it goes with Species, a Hollywood flick from the doldrums of the mid 1990s that somehow captures the sensibilities of the old school drive in while giving them a modern twist.  It’s not about telling the tightest story with the hardest science or the creepiest horror… it’s about having fun.  And if you haven’t had any fun with this flick by the time the preposterous ending happens and the end credits roll, you may want to check to see if you’re undead.


Bottom line, Species isn’t a complete original by any means, but it is a whole lot of fun.  It’s a modern drive-in movie that reminds audiences that such fun can be had without resorting to complete farce or the lowest common denominator, and for that, fans have come to reward Species with a place of esteem in the genre canon.  It’s a place well-earned, and a place worth visiting again if you haven’t been there in a while.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2013


More From The Bar! | Lifeforce | Pacific Rim | Virtual Assassin | Species II |



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