In Hollywood, most film makers and producers spend a lot of time looking for the 'next big thing'. A movie that will start trends, influence future movies, and make everyone associated with it buckets and buckets of money. Oddly enough, they do this by looking at other films and trying to copy what made them successful, totally ignoring the fact that films like Jaws, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark weren't created that way at all. In any case, it is easy to see that the 1995 movie Species was created by taking parts of other popular films and hoping that they'd strike a nerve. The recipe for this film is pretty simple: take two parts Alien and one part Predator, and a liberal dose of blood and gore, one really hot naked chick, and stir. The result is a cheesy, trashy, and predictable movie that is pretty easy to ridicule and dismiss out of hand. Except that, even with all of its flaws, this is a fun film to watch. Sony has honored Species, a guilty pleasure for many SF and horror fans, by making it an early Blu-ray release.
The plot is pretty basic. Set in 1993, the scientists at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) finally discover what they've always been looking for, a signal from alien beings. Translating the message, they find that humanity has been sent a series of instructions on how to alter DNA and then splice this new genetic code into human DNA. The egg-heads decide that it sounds like a fun project and proceed to create a new species. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
A lot as it turns out. The creature that they put together is designed as a female so that she'll be more docile. But Sil (the achingly gorgeous Natasha Henstridge) turns out to be anything but docile. She can turn from hot babe to armored killing machine in the blink of an eye, and her biological clock is ringing. She escapes from the center where she was created and starts prowling the city streets looking for a mate. It's up to Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) and his team of scientists and guns for hire to track and kill the lethal beauty before she can start to reproduce.
This is basically a high budget (it cost $35 million) b-movie. The blood, sex, and simple plot would be right at home in a drive in flick with no name actors and cheap special effects. The nice thing about this film is that it did have a budget and boasts some talented actors and some decent special effects.
I'm still a bit amazed that the producers were able to talk Ben Kingsley into staring in this trashy flick, but they did and he turns in a fine performance. Of course the real focus of the film is Natasha Henstridge who spends a good portion of it naked. She's able to mesmerize me every time she's on the screen, but then again I'm a guy. The part doesn't really call for her to act, just look pretty and she does that very well. The rest of the ensemble cast that includes Michael Madsen and Forest Whitaker are surprisingly good (especially Whitaker) and help make the movie much better than it should be.
Let's face it, this film is derivative, predictable, and corny. (How many times does Sil jump out and attack someone? It's startling the first time but after that...) The dialog is often ludicrous ("No one ever asked me to find anything they didn't want dead.") and it's to the cast's credit that they can deliver their lines without laughing. When all is said and done though, this boobs-n-blood film is more than a little fun. It's no Rashomon, but then again there are times when you want some mindless fun entertainment. For moments like that, keep a copy of this movie at hand.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official announcement from Samsung.
The 2.35:1 widescreen image is not as strong as I was hoping it would be. It looks very similar to the SD Species SE DVD. Some of the scenes are clearly superior with a nice 3D look, but a majority of the movie lacks the HD pop and comes across as flat. There is a little dirt on the master that they used. Not much but it I was still disappointed to see the spots. The image has a lot of grain too, and a bit of digital noise. On the positive side, the colors look very good, especially the flesh tones, and the blacks are solid. The night scenes looked good but not great, with some finer details getting lost in the shadows.
In general, the level of detail is very good, better than the SD version of the movie, with minor items coming across as sharper and more focused. The water in the hot tub scene has a lot of texture and the print on the young Sil's nightgown comes through clearly, which was nice. Overall this is a good looking disc, but there were a some defects that made it less than perfect.
This disc offers viewers the choice of an uncompressed PCM 5.1 English mix and DD 5.1 tracks in both English and French. I screened the film with the PCM track and found it to be satisfactory but not outstanding. The first thing that people will notice is that there isn't a lot of use made of the rear channels. During a few scenes the rears are active, but after the action if done, the collapsed to a stereo mix. The range is good, and the film does have some kick to it during some of the action scenes, the car chase in particular. There's really nothing terribly wrong with the mix, it fits the movie well, but it could have been better. There are subtitles in English, Korean, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese (sic) and Thai.
While most of the bonus items from the SE are not on this disc (no surprise
there after seeing the other Sony Blu-Ray discs) there are some extras.
The two commentaries that were on the SE DVD are both included here which
I was happily surprised to see. The first commentary track is with
director Roger Donaldson and actors Michael Madsen and Natasha Henstridge,
and the second, dealing with the special effects, with Roger Donaldson
again, producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., visual-effects supervisor Richard Edlund
and Creature and Special Make Up Effects Creator Steve Johnson. The
second was a bit dry, but the first commentary was a lot of fun.
Species is a guilty pleasure of mine. I couldn't defend it to save my life, but I do enjoy watching it every once in a while. Equal parts exciting and silly, the film moves at a fast pace and doesn't give you much time to realize how down right awful it is. This Sony Blu-Ray version has a nice picture that boasts more detail than the SD DVD version but still isn't as deep and sharp as it should be. Likewise the audio is acceptable, but not as powerful and engulfing as I was hoping it would be. Even with these critiques I have to admit that I'm sure I'll pop this puppy in the player again in the not too distant future. Recommended for B-movie fans and people who don't take films too seriously.