Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Species (1995)

Species is a delirious b-movie given an (at the time, anyway) a-list cast. There are many ways in which the whole thing could be written off as complete nonsense unworthy of your time, and I'm sure that many people feel that way, but there are also many ways in which it just keeps piling on the fun until viewers give in and go along with the whole ridiculousness of it all.

The plot is all about contact with alien intelligence. Yep, scientists searching for extraterrestrial life have hit paydirt but this isn't so much a flowing dialogue as it is a fractured exchange of ideas. Earth has been sending up a message for a long time now and aliens finally respond with a formula that leads to a great new energy source. The second message from somewhere out in the universe contains information about alien DNA and how to splice it with human DNA. So the science folk give it a go. They end up with a young girl (Sil, played by Michelle Williams). Sadly, when Sil starts displaying some worrying behaviour in her sleep it's decided that the project must end. Which means destroying Sil with cyanide. Sil doesn't like that plan and escapes, just in time for her body to change as she metamorphasises into her adult form (Natasha Henstridge). She needs to be found and stopped so a team is assembled consisting of an anthropologist (Alfred Molina), an empath (Forrest Whitaker), a molecular biologist (Marg Helgenberger) and a mercenary (Michael Madsen). They are given their instructions by the team leader Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) and the hunt is on. Meanwhile, the rapidly-maturing Sil starts to get broody.

Roger Donaldson directs from a script by Dennis Feldman that throws a few smart lines in with a number of laughable clunkers (the context of the moment that has Forrest Whitaker saying "something . . . . bad . . . happened here" remains one of my favourite unintentional laughs ever). Yet it seems clear throughout that all involved knew how preposterous the core idea was - a gorgeous alien is on the prowl for a mate while a group of folks try to get to her in time - and had a lot of fun with it.

The whole movie is lifted immensely by the presence of the gorgeous Natasha Henstridge in the lead role, as averse to clothing as she is beautiful. The rest of the cast all get to have at least one or two great moments - whether they are supporting actors being seduced by Henstridge, Whitakler and Molina enjoying a number of Long Island Iced Teas, Kingsley trying to stay cool and calm under increasing pressure, Helgenberger flirting with Madsen or Madsen just being a cool hardass.

But the big bonus that the movie has is the presence of the great H. R. Giger in the design department. Yes, the visionary who gave us the main creations in the Alien universe here lends his considerable talents to a project that sees him creating something equally arresting, even if the surrounding movie isn't quite the horror classic that the Ridley Scott film was. Not every film making use of such talent needs to be a classic and Species doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is - a gloriously demented, sexy, sci-fi horror with some great (and not so great) effects here and there, some enjoyable nastiness and a great main character.


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