The B-Movie Isle: Scream Factory’s Species (Collector’s Edition)
The B-Movie Isle/Adam heads back to the mid-90’s when Michael Madsen was super cool, we had more Alien-riffs than Alien-sequels and MGM was making a comeback with some cool genre material. Enter the serious (and seriously goofy fun) of Species. We’re looking at the loaded Blu-Ray edition of the film that stars not one but three Academy Award Winners (more on that later). Is the film still fun? Is Michael Madsen still super cool? Does Forrest Whitaker still “feel” the obvious? Does the Scream Factory release continue their streak of loaded releases? Find out below…
Here’s a strange little secret. In 1995, MGM killed it with genre material. Literally, figuratively, metaphorically… They. Killed. It. MGM’s slate reads like a B-Movie film geek’s dream come true. This is what came out from MGM: Showgirls, Cutthroat Island, Hackers, Lord of Illusion, Golden Eye, Get Shorty, and SPECIES!!!!
Looking at that list and that just feels my heart with joy. All those films I have affection for (yes, even Cutthroat Island. Remember… we’re HUGE Renny Harlin fans here). Species is the one that I didn’t love at first. My initial reaction to the previews and TV ads were ‘meh’. It was only after its release in the theaters did I truly understand and appreciate the awesome sauce that is Species. Let us be clear there is a difference between good and entertaining. Just because a film is entertaining doesn’t mean it’s good. The reverse is also true; just because something’s good doesn’t mean it’s entertaining.
While Species may not be a good film it’s surely is a darn entertaining one. Taking form the Mad Scientist sub-genre a specific one Xavier Fitch (played by Academy Award winner #1, Sir Ben Kingsley) is given a DNA code from space (laugh and go with it) that he splices together with human DNA. That milk shake brings to the yard SIL. SIL looks like a normal 12 year old girl (played by Academy Award winner #2 Michelle Williams) but it belies a dangerous Preying Mantis style Alien/human hybrid. No sooner than you can say ‘kill the beast’ as SIL escapes and starts having Giger sexy demented dreams about Alien Love (“Alien love, why’d you say Alien love!!!”, we’re Bowfinger fans here).
Fitch and the government put together a team to hunt SIL down. This team is populated by a who’s who of great actors. Michael Madsen plays Preston Lennox the Mercenary/Hunter/Assassin. Marg Helgenberger plays Dr. Laura Baker the biologist. Alfred Molina plays Doc Ock, just kidding, Dr. Stephen Arden the sociologist. Last but not least Academy Award Winner #3 Forest Whitaker as Dan Smithson the psychic line network/empath. The team isn’t really a team at all just a lot of Whitaker saying, “she was scared” after we saw SIL scared. Oh, by now SIL is no longer played by Williams by Natasha Henstridge.
The film’s a hunt for SIL as she tries to procreate (SPOILER, she does) and take over the world as being mommy of the year! The film ends in a series of underground tunnels. There is much noise and a very over-the-top Kingsley (which is the best Sir Ben) and Whitaker beats the cliché in horror films! Yay, everyone’s happy but… of course there’s a bit at the end that leads it open to; SEQUELS (there were three, which this reviewer has seen and adores each one).
The best part of the film is how the cast commits to making this film. There isn’t one person that winks knowingly with their performance. Even Sir Ben commits fully to the premise. Madsen seems to make laconic snooze into a style of acting, though it is fun to watch him do his best Steve McQueen (and do it quite well). Whitaker and Molina seem to be having the most fun though Whitaker’s entire character is a B-Movie Geek in-joke because of how badly he’s written. Both Helgenberger and Henstridge suffer the most as their roles are just “the woman” and “the monster” nothing else is required of them. The actresses do imbue their roles with as much character as they can in the time they’re given. Funnily enough it would take the sequel to give them each meatier roles.
Of course the film wouldn’t work without Giger’s design and the work of Steve Johnson for the practical FX work. Some of the effects do still hold up (most of the practical). The interesting aspect of the design that Giger laid out and Johnson did the practical sculpting is how sexualized it is. Where Alien it was a male dominated sexualization, this is a feminine sexualization. It’s really too bad the film never really cashes in on those types of fears with some great effective gore effects or set pieces.
Richard Edlund and his Boss Films that handled Visual FX for the film The film is a fascinating relic with regards to its use of CGI and motion capture. Boss Films was already working on Motion Capture back in the mid-1990’s well before WETA and James Cameron took it to new heights. Here you can see the small steps their taking, again both literal and figuratively speaking. Most of Boss Films’ work shows up at the end.
Director Roger Donaldson and screenwriter Dennis Feldman put together a lean and mean B-Movie with an A-Budget and it works. Yes, there is some really to be said about keeping things moving like a freight train. Species is designed to move so quickly even the most absurd of plot points are glossed over. Donaldson having directed Cocktail knows how to make even the most ridiculous of premises and movies seem vibrant. Though there isn’t much in the way that goes on in the film, Donaldson makes it seem all very important and worthy of your time. It’s a huge credit to him and the cast that this film works as well and as slickly as it does.
Two decades later Species still works, and is a heck of a fun
The photography from Andzej Bartkowiak (Speed) is as slick and polished as any action film produced in the 90’s and here it finally gets the treatment it deserves with a new 4K scan of the film’s interpositive. The film looks gorgeous, with the anamorphic photography accurately represented here along with the true lens flares. The black levels and contrast is near perfect on the transfer. The film is shot very dark and on previous transfers it was difficult to make out what was happening during the nightmares that SIL has. Here on this newest transfer everything is shown with clarity that’s shocking (for what’s in the scene and the transfer itself). Fans of this film will be delighted.
The extras are spread over two Blu-Rays.
— DISC ONE —
- 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.
— DISC TWO —
- 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, And More
- From Sil To Eve – An Interview With Actress Natasha Henstridge
- Engineering Life
- H.R. 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)
Thank you Scream Factory. You’ve managed to hit another one out of the park. Though a lot of the features are compiled from previous efforts the newest feature NEW Afterbirth: The Evolution Of SPECIES is the type of BTS documentary that we’ve come to expect from Scream Factory. That expectation is by no means a cop out that we do not appreciate the work. The documentary is as great as the original Doc that’s included on the disc.
The two commentaries are surprisingly fun and informative. The first with Henstridge, Madsen and Donaldson is the best as it’s a relaxed chat through the movie. Henstridge is quite fun to listen to as she discusses the process of getting the role and the challenges.
The additional featurettes include are a mishmash of interviews, featurettes, behind the scenes b-roll footage, et. al. add more layers to the disc overabundant wealth of features. With the commentaries you’re looking at close to 7 ½ hours of additional content. Scream Factory sets the standard for these releases. It’s always a pleasant surprise to see how much care, time and thoughtfulness goes into these releases.
The Bottom Shelf:
Pop the popcorn, melt the butter, grab your favorite libation from the fridge and get ready to enjoy all the B-Movie goodness. Scream Factory has produced another stellar disc in Species.