Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Species (1995, dir: Roger Donaldson; cast: Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger, Natasha Henstridge)





Here's the pitch: The Terminator as an Alien.

Combine those two films, add a touch of Eve of Destruction, and the result is Species. A female alien as an unthinking and unstoppable killing force. An alien designed by Alien designer H.R. Giger. An alien that proves yet again that horror's strongest efforts are its low-budget entries, for Species is nowhere near as entertaining as such schlocky but quirky films as Galaxy of Terror, Horror Planet, or Forbidden World.

Species offers a simple story.  Aliens radio a DNA blueprint to the us via SETI (as in Contact) on how to genetically engineer a human/alien hybrid (as in V and The X-Files).

It's a girl!

A girl that matures rapidly, until the chief man-in-black (Ben Kingsley) determines that the experiment (and the little girl) must be terminated. The girl escapes, quickly maturing into a woman/alien hybrid (Natasha Henstridge).

All animal instinct, no human empathy, Henstridge kills whenever she feels threatened, which is often (although not so often as to please harder-core gorehounds). Soon in heat, she prowls for a potential mate (a human male) to impregnate her with healthy offspring. She kills any female competitor who hinders her mating ritual. She kills biologically undesirable males who get fresh with her -- she has no desire to breed with drug users or diabetics.

Naturally, the men-in-black have pulled together a crack secret team to search and destroy Henstridge. Kingsley's team consists of a wimpy anthropologist (Alfred Molina), a pretty but brainy molecular biologist (Marg Helgenberger), an empath (Forrest Whitaker), and a triggerman (Michael Madsen).

The cast is pretty one-note. Whitaker's note is drowsiness. He appears half-asleep through most of the film, but shifts gears to three-quarters asleep when he's "picking up vibes." Madsen plays a "jaded tough-guy with a wounded soul," always glancing about, furrowing his brows, squinting Clint Eastwood-like, and mouthing unintentionally funny tough-guy talk. Helgenberger is pretty. Kingsley is tense. Molina is wimpy. Simple roles performed with journeyman professionalism.

Henstridge is vapid, as emotionless as Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. It's what the role requires. Sil (the alien) is a killing force with a single-minded mission (to procreate), instinctively (mechanically) terminating any opposition. Nothing personal.

Upon its initial release, MGM's marketing people emphasized Species's "introduction" of Henstridge, and Giger's design of Sil. Yes, Sil and child look cool, and resemble Giger's work on Alien. But whereas Alien was suffused with Giger's vision, here Sil and child are seen only briefly in their natural states.

Species is pleasant time-killer, but no more. It has less verve, sparkle, or creativity than many a low-budget horror/sci-fi efforts. Its alien, its heroes, its effects, its gore, its obligatory car chase, it's all okay, but largely forgettable.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos


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