Starring Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Distributed by Scream Factory
The life cycle of a film is rarely as simple as “write script, sell it, make movie”. Oftentimes a script can vary wildly from initial iteration to filmed feature with so many changes implemented in the interim it doesn’t even resemble the original concept. Species (1995) started life as “The Message”, a police procedural that had similar core ideas to what eventually came to be, though it was roundly rejected by major studios. Writer Dennis Feldman rewrote his idea as a spec script and sent it off to producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. (who had a hand in five Friday the 13th sequels), who ordered further changes before it was deemed ready for prime time. With something filmable finally in hand, there were two inclusions to director Roger Donaldson’s film that pushed it past the point of being just another sci-fi alien thriller: newcomer Natasha Henstridge, and famed Swedish artist H.R. Giger. The former brought with her a fresh face and an unyielding amount of sex appeal, while the latter contributed what he did best: sexy alien designs.
A clandestine government research facility holds a young girl (Michelle Williams) within a small room. Confined and looking frightened, the girl is about to be gassed with cyanide under the conflicted eye of Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley), presumably the man in charge. Just as the gas is released, however, the girl smashes the window of her prison and runs full force outside the compound, easily scaling the barbed wire fence and making an escape on a passing train. The next day a dead transient is found in a boxcar and Fitch knows who is responsible, forcing him to assemble a team of trackers and scientists to bring in this being – anthropologist Dr. Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina), molecular biologist Dr. Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger), “empath” Dan Smithson (Forest Whitaker), and mercenary Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen).
As Fitch explains to the ad hoc hunting party, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) began sending messages into space decades ago in hopes of contacting other life. Recently, they got a message back. Contained within the transmission were two things: a formula for a new clean source of renewable energy, and instructions on how to splice alien DNA with that of humans. Dozens of experiments were conducted and only two samples survived: one was frozen, the other grew into Sil, the young “girl” held at the facility. Sil grew from embryo to a 12-year-old girl in just three months. As the team learns, once she boarded the commuter train her body underwent another growth spurt, with Sil emerging from a cocoon as a twentysomething adult (Natasha Henstridge). Fitch’s concern is that Sil, now matured, intends to mate with a human and spawn children of a superior intelligence and physicality. With the team informed and assembled, Fitch and the crew enter Los Angeles where Sil has left a trail of bloody breadcrumbs for the group to discover.
This movie had everything my 13-year-old self could have ever wanted when it hit theaters all those years ago. A sci-fi feature filled with killer practical alien effects and one of the hottest leading ladies since Sharon Stone exploded upon the scene a few years earlier. H.R. Giger’s design work, though reminiscent of Alien (1979), is still a sight to behold. It is distinct and instantly recognizable, sexual and sleek and cunning. Steve Johnson and his FX team did an incredible job of bringing Giger’s vision to life. The alien Sil suit is a true work of art, the crystal clear exterior a smooth, sculpted visage for the dull, black form hidden beneath. Other than the hot tub scene it is mostly glimpsed in quick cuts and dreams… and during the ending, where it is generated by computer and looks entirely dated by the nascent FX work of the mid-‘90s. Although, I will say it still isn’t as bad as The Rock in The Mummy Returns (2001). Personally, I would have liked to see more of what Giger created for the film because those sequences and designs are in such stark contrast to the rest of the picture but, then again, less is often more and there is no question his design work is a huge part of why this film has endured.
Nothing much really came of Natasha Henstridge’s career post-Species, which likely only surprised my teenage self because at the time I had such a crush I wanted her to appear in everything. Truthfully, she excels at playing an alien trying to act like a human because, well, her acting is on that level. Henstridge is impossibly easy on the eyes, as one of the easily seduced team members fatefully learns in the film, but her acting has never really risen above passable. She returned for the sequel, Species II (1998), which wasn’t half bad, as well as taking a minor role in the third film, Species III (2004), which is terrible. Let’s not even discuss Species: The Awakening (2007)… I don’t want to make it sound like Henstridge’s acting is bad here because it isn’t, injecting life into the film with her fresh face and perky-yet-poisonous demeanor. She capably handles the role, oozing just the right amount of sex appeal and deadly uncertainty. Amusingly enough the only actress to play Sil, or any other alien in this series, that has gone on to great acclaim is Michelle Williams. She kills it in her opening scenes as a frightened girl unsure of her place in the world.
The series trajectory of Species is an odd one, and it feels like so much potential was squandered after this first entry. The building blocks were there to make sequels that could have been remarkable or at least more interesting, exploring alien worlds or expanding upon some of the alien tech seen via Giger’s visions, but the next film took a sharp turn into horror trope territory and further entries were D.O.A. But after 22 years, this original still works well enough, with a strong cast of recognizable faces and tight direction from Donaldson.
Sporting a new 4K scan of the inter-positive, the 2.35:1 1080p image yields the best picture possible for an unfortunately locked-in-the-‘90s video aesthetic. Details are sharp and the print is immaculate, but it’s just a bit… dull. Boring. There isn’t a lot of flash or pizzazz. Colors are boldly saturated. Film grain is often organic but in total darkness things tend to get a little noisy. The CGI looks horrible; there is no getting around that. Scream Factory’s transfer likely represents the best this film can look; it just isn’t all that good looking. It is a product of the era and, visually, it’s dated.
As per usual, expect to find an English DTS-HD MA track in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. Composer Christopher Young’s score is not one of his better works but it gets the job done properly all the same. Dialogue comes through clean and discernible, even during some of the more boisterous club scenes. Rears are used sparingly, providing subtle ambiance and little more. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
There are two audio commentary tracks – the first, with Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, and director Roger Donaldson; the second, with director Roger Donaldson, make-up effects creator Steve Johnson, visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund, and producer Frank Mancuso, Jr.
“After-Birth: The Evolution of Species” – A handful of participants – among them director Roger Donaldson, not among them Natasha Henstridge – reflect on the film they made some 27 years earlier.
“From SIL to EVE” – This is a carryover extra from the Species II Blu-ray, featuring Natasha Henstridge in a new sit-down interview.
“Engineering Life” – Real-life scientists discuss the potential for the events in “Species” to occur, explaining what could be fact and what is forever fiction.
“H.R. Giger at Work” – Footage of the late artist working on designs for the film is shown here, taken candidly.
“The Making of Species: The Origin, The Concept, The Discovery” – This behind-the-scenes piece gets more in-depth about the creative process of putting the feature together.
“Designing a Hybrid” – The FX team discusses the work they did to replicate Giger’s designs. Footage of sculpting and molds in the studio is also shown.
An alternate ending, theatrical trailer, and three still galleries – “Production Design Gallery”, “Creature Design Gallery”, and “Still Gallery” – are also included.
- NEW 4K scan of the film’s inter-positive
- Audio Commentary with Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen and director Roger Donaldson
- Audio Commentary with director Roger Donaldson, make-up effects creator Steve Johnson, visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund and producer Frank Mancuso Jr.
- NEW Afterbirth: The Evolution of SPECIES featuring interviews with director Roger Donaldson, cinematographer Andzej Bartkowiak, production designer John Muto, composer Christopher Young, creature designer Steve Johnson, chrysalis supervisor Billy Bryan and “Sil” creature supervisor Norman Cabrera
- From Sil To Eve – an interview with actress Natasha Henstridge
- Engineering Life
- HR Giger At Work
- The Making Of Species: The Origin, The Concept, The Discovery
- Designing A Hybrid
- Theatrical Trailer
- Alternate Ending
- Photo Galleries (Production Design, Creature Designs, Film Stills, Behind the Scenes photos, posters and lobby cards)