Species (film)

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Species
Speciesver3.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr.
Dennis Feldman
Written by Dennis Feldman
Starring Ben Kingsley
Michael Madsen
Alfred Molina
Forest Whitaker
Marg Helgenberger
Natasha Henstridge
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Edited by Conrad Buff
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • July 7, 1995 (1995-07-07)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Portuguese
Budget $35 million[1]
Box office $113,374,103[1]

Species is a 1995 American science fiction horror film directed by Roger Donaldson, and starring Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger. The film is about a group of scientists who try to track down and trap a killer alien seductress before she successfully mates with a human male.

The film produced one theatrical sequel in 1998, Species II, which had Henstridge, Madsen and Helgenberger reprise their roles. It was followed by the direct-to-video Species III in 2004 and Species: The Awakening in 2007, which stands as a stand-alone film, not as an official follow-up to the previous three films.

Plot summary[edit]

During the SETI program, Earth's scientists send out transmissions (shown to be the Arecibo message) with information about Earth and its inhabitants, DNA structure, etc., in hopes of finding life beyond Earth. They then receive transmissions from an alien source on how to create endless fuel effortlessly. Therefore, the scientists assume that this is a friendly alien species. From a second alien transmission, the scientists receive information about an alien DNA along with instructions on how to splice it with human DNA. A government team led by Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) goes forward with the genetic experiment attempting to induce a female, because a female would have "more docile and controllable" traits. One of the hundred experimental ova produces a girl named Sil, who looks like a normal human but develops into a 12-year old in 3 months.

Sil's violent outbursts during sleep make the scientists consider her a threat. They try to kill her using cyanide gas but she breaks out of her containment cell and escapes. The government assembles a team composed of anthropologist Dr. Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina), molecular biologist Dr. Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger), empath Dan Smithson (Forest Whitaker) and mercenary Preston "Press" Lennox (Michael Madsen) to track and destroy Sil. Sil matures rapidly into an adult (Natasha Henstridge) in her early twenties and makes her way to Los Angeles. This makes tracking her extremely difficult. She is incredibly strong and intelligent with amazing regenerative powers. The scientists fear she may mate with human males and produce offspring that could eliminate the human race. Sil lacks inhibitions when it comes to killing people who get in her way and wants to produce offspring as soon as possible. She frequently morphs into her alien form, a bipedal creature with tentacles on her shoulders and back.

Sil tries first to mate with a man she meets at a night club, but after sensing that he is diabetic, rejects him. Unsatisfied, he then tries to forcibly initiate sex, prompting her to kill him by puncturing his skull with her tongue. She then tries to mate with a man she meets after a car accident. They swim in the man's pool where Sil forces the man to open his swimming trunks in order to mate, but the man refuses. This is interrupted by Press and Laura. She kills the man and flees naked into a forest without being seen by the team. She pretends to be a rape victim, and then proceeds to kidnap a woman. She fakes her death by crashing the woman's car into a high voltage transformer during a high-speed chase.

After cutting and dyeing her hair, she takes an attraction to Press. Arden, who is upset at not having found himself a woman walks into his room to find Sil waiting in there. She has intercourse with Arden; then kills him when he realizes who she is. The rest of the team then follow her into the sewers where Fitch is subsequently killed. The area where Sil and her offspring are destroyed. Press uses a grenade launcher on Sil, blowing her head off. The trio leaves the area. The last scene shows a rat chewing on one of Sil's severed tentacles; it starts to mutate into a vicious beast and attacks another rat.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Writing and development[edit]

Dennis Feldman had the idea for Species in 1987,[2] as he worked on another film about an alien invasion, Real Men.[3] Combined with reading an article by Arthur C. Clarke about the insurmountable odds against an extraterrestrial craft ever locating and visiting Earth, given stellar distances are great, and faster-than-light travel is unlikely,[4] Feldman started to think that it was "unsophisticated for any alien culture to come here in what I'd describe as a big tin can". Thus in turn he considered that the possibility of extraterrestrial contact was through information.[3] Then he detailed that a message would contain instructions from across the void to build something that would talk to men, and Feldman thought that "this wouldn't be a robot; it would be wetware. It would also want to use our DNA to make sure it could live in our environment, whatever this creature was. It knew the genes that were surviving here were the ones that would tell it what form to take and how to survive here."[4] Given mankind had already sent to space transmissions "giving out directions" such as the Arecibo message, Feldman thought that "maybe we shouldn't be so freely broadcasting where we live to life forms that might prey upon us",[2] as "in nature, one species would not want a predator to know where it hides" and the human race has been an apex predator for so long "that we've lost sight of the fact that we're a species, like any other. Maybe we shouldn't be so freely broadcasting where we live to lifeforms that might prey upon us."[5]

From this emerged a film treatment called "The Message".[3] The original script had a more police procedural approach, with the alien being created by a "bathtub geneticist" who had just had his project aborted by the government, and a biologist who had worked on the project getting along with a police officer to seek the creature. Eventually Feldman thought this had some credibility issues and instead switch the protagonists to a government team. After coining the name Sil, Feldman initially thought of forming an acronym, but eventually chose only the three-letter names after learning about the codons of the genetic code which are represented in three letters. Sil would originally emerge from "a DNA sequence that took control of ours", and constantly mutate as she used the junk DNA to access "all the defenses of the entire animal kingdom that we evolved through — including ones that had never developed, plus ones we don't know about that have become extinct."[4] Among the research Feldman did for the script included going to sessions of UCLA's Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life (CSEOL), talking to SETI scientists, and visiting the Salk Institute for Biological Studies to talk with researchers of the Human Genome Project.[3] "The Message", was offered to several studios but passed up.[6]

Eventually in 1993 Feldman reworked his ideas into a spec script.[6] This was eventually sent to producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., who had hired Feldman to adapt Sidney Kirkpatrick's A Cast of Killers.[2] The producer got attracted to the creative possibilites as the film offered "the challenge of walking that fine line between believability and pushing something as far as it can go."[5] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer got interested on the project, and while Feldman had some initial disagreements on the budget, after considering other studios he signed with MGM feeling "they were the best people to make the movie."[4] In turn the now retitled Species attracted director Roger Donaldson, who was attracted to its blend of science fiction and thriller. The script underwent eight different drafts, written over an eight-month period, before Donaldson was content that flaws in the story's logic had been corrected. At one point another writer, Larry Gross, tried his hand with the script, but ultimately all the work was done by Feldman.[2] Feldman would remain as a co-producer. While the initial Species script would suggest a love triangle between Sil, Press and Lennox, eventually dissatisfaction by the crew lead to changes to the ending, now featuring Sil having a baby that would immediately prove dangerous.[3]

Design[edit]

Sil was designed by Swiss artist H. R. Giger, who also created the creatures in the Alien films. Donaldson thought Giger was the best man for the film after reading his compendium Necronomicon, and eventually he and Mancuso flew to Switzerland to meet the artist. What attracted Giger was the opportunity to design "a monster in another way—an aesthetic warrior, also sensual and deadly, like the women look in my paintings." While Giger opted to stay in Switzerland to take care of his dying mother instead of flying to Los Angeles to accompany production, he built some puppets in his own studio, and later faxed sketches and airbrush paintings as production went through.[2] The practical models were made by Steve Johnson and his company XFX, which had already worked with Giger's designs in Poltergeist II. Giger envisioned more stages of Sil's transformation, with the film only employing the last, where she is "transparent outside and black inside—like a glass body but with carbon inside" - with XFX doing the translucent skin based on what they had done for the aliens of The Abyss. Sil's alien form had both full-body animatronics with replaceable arms, heads and torsos, and a body suit.[7] Richard Edlund's Boss Film Studios was hired for over 50 shots of computer-generated imagery, which included one of the earliest forms of motion capture effects. Using a two-foot high electric puppet that had sensors translating its movements to a digital Sil, Boss Films managed to achieve in one day what would have once taken as much as three weeks with practical effects.[5]

Giger was unhappy with some elements he found excessively similar from other movies, particularly the Alien franchise. At a point he sent a fax to Mancuso finding five similarities: a "Chestburster" (as Sil giving birth echoed the infant Alien breaking out of its host's chest), the creature having a punching tongue (which in Sil's case, Giger at first wanted a tongue composed of barbed hooks), a cocoon, the use of flame throwers, and having Giger as the creature designer. A great point of contention was the ending, which Giger considered derivative from the climaxes from both Alien 3 and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the designer felt that horror films frequently held some final confrontation with fire, "an oldfashioned Middle-Age weapon, like the way they used to burn witches." Giger even sent some ideas for the climax to the producers, with them accepting to have Sil's ultimate death occurring by headshot.[2]

Filming[edit]

Filming happened mostly in Los Angeles, including location shooting at Sunset Strip, Silver Lake, Pacific Palisades, the Hollywood Hills and the Biltmore Hotel. The Id Club was built within Hollywood's Pantages Theater, and the hills above Dodger Stadium near Elysian Park were used for the car chase and crash where Sil fakes her death. For the opening scenes in Utah, the Tooele Army Depot dubbed as the outside of the research facility - the interiors were shot at the Rockwell International Corporation laboratory in California - and a Victorian-era train station in Brigham City was part of Sil's escape. Other locations included the Santa Monica Pier and the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. The most complex sets involved the sewer complex and a tar-filled granite cavern where the ending occurs. Donaldson wanted a maze quality for the sewers, which had traces of realism—tree roots breaking through from the ceiling—and artistic licenses—in the words of production designer John Muto, "ours be wider and taller than real sewers, and real sewers don't come equipped with walkways, but the trick was to make it seem claustrophic and real." The underground tunnels were built out of structural steel, metal rod, plaster and concrete to endure the fire effects, and had its design based on the La Brea Tar Pits, with Muto describing them as "just the sort of place in which a creature from another planet might feel at home."[8]

Influence and themes[edit]

Given Sil grows rapidly and kills humans with ease, at a certain point Dr. Laura Baker even speculates if she was a sent as a biological weapon by a species that thought humans were like an intergalactic weed. Feldman declared that this was a theme that he wanted to explore more in the script, as it discussed mankind's place in the universe and how other civilization would see us - "maybe we're not a potential threat, maybe a competitor, maybe a resource". He also declared that more could be said about Sil's existentialism doubts, as she does not know her origins or purpose, and only follows the instinct to mate and perpetuate the species.[3]

Writing for the Journal of Popular Film & Television, Susan George detailed a study of "[p]rocreation and creation in recent science fiction films," which examined the "representation of procreation and creation in light of the portrayal of technology, scientists, and gender in three science fiction films of the 1990s."[9] Writing about Species, George compares the character of Fitch to "an updated Dr. Frankenstein," and explores the development of Sil's maternal aspirations, which convert the character into an "archaic mother" figure similar to the xenomorph creature in the Alien series, both of which are portrayed "only in a negative light."[9] George further states that a recurring theme in science fiction films is a typical response to "this kind of powerful female sexuality and 'alien-ness'" in that "the feminine monster must die as Sil does at the end of Species."[9] Feldman himself considered that an underlying theme regarded "a female arriving and seeking to find a superior mate".[3]

A five-year investigation into accounts of the chupacabra, a well known cryptid, which was detailed in Benjamin Radford's Tracking the Chupacabra, revealed that the original sighting report of the creature in Puerto Rico by Madeline Tolentino may have been inspired by the creature design of the character Sil in alien form.[10] According to Virginia Fugarino of Memorial University of Newfoundland writing for the Journal of Folklore Research, Radford "explores the similarities between [the original eyewitness] report and the alien creature central to the film," and hypothesized that "[Species], which she did see before her sighting, influenced what she believes she saw of the chupacabra."[11]

Adaptations[edit]

Yvonne Navarro wrote a novelization based on the original screenplay, with extensive help from Feldman as he read Navarro's manuscript and both would communicate with each other to expand the novel's content.[12] The book gives several in depth details about the characters not seen in the film, such as Sil's ability to visualize odors and determine harmful substances from edible items by the color. Gas appears black, food appears pink, and an unhealthy potential mate appears to give off green fumes. Other character details include Press's background in tracking down AWOL soldiers as well as the process of decoding the alien signal. Although no clues are given as to its origin, it is mentioned that the message was somehow routed through several black holes to mask its point of origin.[13]

Dark Horse Comics published a four-issue comic book adapting the film, written by Feldman - which described his participation as a big favor to his comic book fan - and penciled by Jon Foster. Dark Horse would also publish a mini-series with an all-new storyline,[4] Species: Human Race, released in 1997.[14] West End Games released a World of Species sourcebook for its Masterbook role-playing game system.[15]

Reception[edit]

Species received mixed to negative reviews. It currently holds an approval rating of 35% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews (12 positive, 22 negative).[16] Roger Ebert gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, criticizing the film's plot and overall lack of intelligence.[17] Cristine James from Boxoffice magazine gave the film 2 out of 5 stars, describing it as "... 'Alien' meets 'V' meets 'Splash' meets 'Playboy's Erotic Fantasies: Forbidden Liaisons,' diluted into a diffuse, misdirected bore."[18] James Berardinelli gave the film 2 and a half out of 4 stars, stating "as long as you don't stop to think about what's going on, Species is capable of offering its share of cheap thrills, with a laugh or two thrown in as well".[19]

Legacy[edit]

The first sequel to Species, Species II, was released theatrically in 1998. Navarro later authored the novelization for Species II which followed the film's original screenplay with added scenes.[20] Further sequels were released direct-to-video, Species III (2004) and the Sci-Fi Channel co-production Species - The Awakening (2007).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Species - Box Office Data, DVD Sales, Movie News, Cast Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f H.R. Giger: Origin of Species, Cinefantastique
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "The Making of Species: The Origin", Species Definitive Edition DVD disk 2
  4. ^ a b c d e In the Blood, Starlog
  5. ^ a b c Creating a New Species at the Wayback Machine (archived March 29, 1997)
  6. ^ a b Giger, H.R.; Feldman, Dennis (intro), Cowan, James R. (intro) (1996). Species Design. Morpheus International. ISBN 1883398126. 
  7. ^ 'BUILDING GIGER'S ALIEN', Cinefantastique
  8. ^ AN UNNATURAL HABITAT at the Wayback Machine (archived March 29, 1997)
  9. ^ a b c George, Susan (2001). "Not exactly 'of woman born': Procreation and creation in recent science fiction films". Journal of Popular Film & Television 28 (4): 176–83. doi:10.1080/01956050109602839. 
  10. ^ Radford, Benjamin (15 March 2011). Tracking the Chupacabra: the Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore. University of New Mexico Press. pp. 129—140. ISBN 978-0-8263-5015-2. 
  11. ^ Fugarino, Virginia S. "Journal of Folklore Research: JFR Review for Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore". Retrieved 2013-06-17. 
  12. ^ http://www.rowena-cory-daniells.com/2011/11/19/meet-yvonne-navarro/
  13. ^ Navarro, Yvonne; Feldman, Dennis (1 June 1995). Species: A Novel. Bantam. ISBN 9780553574043. 
  14. ^ Rennie, Gordon; Hester, Phil; Parks, Ande (5 August 1997). Species: Human Race. Dark Horse. ISBN 9781569712191. 
  15. ^ Woodruff, Teeuwynn (1995). The World of Species. West End Games. ISBN 0874313643. 
  16. ^ "Species". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 7, 1995). "Species". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  18. ^ James, Christine (August 1, 2008). "Species". Boxoffice. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  19. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Species". Reelviews.net. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  20. ^ Navarro, Yvonne (July 1998). Species II: A Novel. Tom Doherty Assoc Llc. ISBN 9780812570755. 

External links[edit]