directed by Roger Donaldson
(MGM, 1995)

Imagine if an alien like those from the Alien/Aliens series of films were loose on the Earth. Instead of lurking within the walls of a spaceship or distant colony, it hides within the oh-so human-looking form of the beautiful Natasha Henstridge. And its goal isn't to kill, although it never balks at doing so; it wants to reproduce.

While the plot of Species has been used in various forms in the SF genre, there's no denying that this entry into the field has a lot going for it, including intense alien artistry by H.R. Giger (who also produced the Alien design). However, it also has many weaknesses.

The movie is a combination of search-and-destroy, alien bug hunt and sexy thriller. Henstridge, who made her first mark in Hollywood with this movie, wants to mate, and she's not subtle in her efforts. The only surprise is that it takes her so long to land a man in bed.

Ben Kingsley is Xavier Fitch, the scientist who crossed human and alien DNA and "fathered" her in a secret government lab. Joining him to track his escaped creation are contract killer Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen), scientists Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina) and Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger), and psychic Dan Smithson (Forest Whitaker). Unfortunately, Kingsley's character is never well developed, despite hints of real humanity hidden behind his cool facade. The other actors fared worse, rarely giving us the sense that they're on a serious and dangerous hunt, and sticking to the stereotypes -- the gruff killer, the romantic female, the goofy foreigner and the sensitive guy -- for this sort of film.

Henstridge, however, deserves full credit for carrying the movie, and not just on the strength of her breasts (which, admittedly, get a lot of camera time). She does a fine job portraying the confusion of an alien "child" in an unknown world, the ruthlessness of a creature driven to follow its natural instincts and the sensuality of a woman on the prowl. Michelle Williams makes a strong appearance as a younger version of the alien hybrid -- bewildered, betrayed and on the run. Some of the film's best storytelling takes place with Williams, not Henstridge, in the title role.

While I can't fault Giger's alien design, the CGI effects at the end did not bring his vision to realistic life. The ending followed the formula a little too closely, bringing things to an unsatisfactory end and setting up the obvious sequel. Much of the script's potential was ignored, unfortunately, so filmmakers could focus instead on blood, shock and, of course, Henstridge's magnificent breasts.

This movie won't appeal to many on the basis of its story alone, but SF fans will enjoy the setup and suspense.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 16 June 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.