Species Review (Blu-ray)

She’s half sexy blond, half slimy H.R. Giger alien, and all hell bent on screwing her way to world domination. When the world first met Natasha Henstridge as Sil back in 1995, they had no idea an unknown actress would overpower a splotchy script and veteran actors Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger. Yet Natasha did just that, with a little help from her uncovered curvaceous frame and perplexed yet deadly visage.

Species has been a guilty pleasure of mine since young six-year old Sil, played by a pint-sized Michelle Williams of Heath Ledger fame, burst out of a cyanide-filled enclosure one night and grew into a young woman by the next morning. The adult Sil, confused why her scientist keeper Ben Kingsley tried to kill her, only understands one simple objective: to survive and propagate the planet with her species, she must have sex and have it soon. Her former captor only understands one objective as well: he’ll need a crack team of specialists to stop Sil before she completes her mission.

While the esteemed actors fight their way through juvenile dialogue and simpleton one-liners, Natasha is able to successfully bring a vulnerability, sense of confusion and desperation to Sil. At times Sil struggles to understand why she’s different and her former captor wants her dead, and at others she’s intensely driven to have sex with and creatively kill a man. I experience a similar conflict as Sil’s warpath rages on, not sure whether to love naked hot human Sil or wish her nasty alien side a swift death.

In perfect convenient B-movie fashion, Kingsley’s team of Sil hunters are always one step behind a murder but never quite able to catch up. That is, until Sil goes on the offensive and Alfred Molina finds himself pegged under a very naked alien in disguise. Clichés carry right into a dark cavernous alien lair where a toddler alien awaits its prey with a lizard-like tongue and cutesy face. It’s during this final confrontation that H.R. Giger’s alien design makes its lone extended appearance as a very early CGI technology creation. Unfortunately, the great model effects work is limited to mostly brief dream sequences and never gets the screen time it deserves. Even so, Sil’s assumed completed journey from confused child to deadly seductress is perfect late night movie fare.

HD DVD has proven films over a decade old can be cleaned up and look fantastic in high definition. Blu-ray on the other hand has fallen well short of expectations on the catalog side to date. The trend, which continues with Species, is for studios to use an inferior print chock full of specks of dirt, scratches and any other imaginable blemishes without even bothering to clean it up. Yes, the Species picture is sharper in 1080p than the film’s DVD counterpart and the PCM 5.1 soundtrack trumps Dolby Digital, but in no way is this transfer as good as it could be. The Blu-ray camp needs to clean up their act and stop half-assing these older catalog transfers before the distracting issues make HD DVD look even better than it already does.

A lack of diverse making-of material is balanced by a pair of commentary tracks. The first features Director Roger Donaldson, Producer Frank Mancuso Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund and Creative Effects Makeup Creator Steve Johnson. As expected, this crew skews their conversation on the technical side and will most appeal to fans of that camp. The second commentary with Director Roger Donaldson and Actors Michael Madsen and Natasha Henstridge is far more lighthearted. Madsen in particular is an everyday man’s wiseass with comments for Donaldson like, “why don’t you show my butt for longer?” This track is decidedly more consumer friendly than the technical jargon littering the first.

The lone featurette is entitled Designing a Hybrid and is an extended journey into the H.R. Giger creature shop. Here the team allows viewers to bear to witness the design and production of Sil’s alien form, seen mostly in blink-and-you-miss-it alien dream sequences. Any creature fan will immensely enjoy watching these artisans hard at work.

Critics won’t hesitate for a nanosecond before tearing into Species for its many flaws and reliance on Henstridge’s naked body. And while I agree with their assessments, for me, Sil’s journey from young child to murderous seductress to obviously fake CGI alien is a satisfying guilty pleasure I’m not afraid to admit enjoying. I only wish MGM would take the time to dig up the best available print, clean it up, and re-release Species in a refined package worth buying.

– Dan Bradley

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