Species: Collector’s Edition

| July 9, 2017

For Shout! Factory/Scream Factory, June and July of 2017 are months packed with Blu-ray releases of films in desperate need of reappraisal or revisitation, beginning with June’s release of the too-oft unseen Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), which stars Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson! They followed that up with Blu-rays of The Lawnmower Man (1992) and Windows (1980). However, one film I’d personally had little interest in revisiting until I was prompted to do so by news of its forthcoming Scream Factory Collector’s Edition was director Roger Donaldson’s Species (1995). And boy am I ever glad I took another look at this sci-fi/horror hybrid, because it’s a far more interesting and subtle film than I’d certainly ever given it credit for.

I last saw Species upon its original VHS release or its debut on HBO (or Cinemax or whatever), which would have meant I was around twelve or so. And back then, as a pre-teen likely in the earliest throes of puberty and also keen on girls, the idea of a beautiful woman displaying sexual interest in a man only to kill him with tentacles that sprout from her nipples was one met by me with a resounding: NOPE! Thus I found myself reacting with disgust for a film that frankly deserves praise.

Deserve praise it does, and for much more than H.R. Giger’s creature design, the brutal kills throughout, or Natasha Henstridge’s confident handling of her many, many nude scenes. The film follows both the scientifically-developed alien/human hybrid Sil (Henstridge) to procreate and the team of three scientists (Ben Kingsley, Marg Helgenberger, and Alfred Molina), an empath (Forest Whitaker), and a mercenary (Michael Madsen) to track her down before her breeding sets in motion the downfall of the human race. The story of the team is predictably complicated by clashing egos, in-fighting, romance, and unrequited love, though all of it is performed expertly by the terrific cast. I was most impressed upon revisiting the film by Roger Donaldson’s handling of Sil.

His approach to Sil’s narrative is to force the audience to extrapolate most of her shifting desires purely through visual cues. Sil sees someone using money, then goes to find money herself, and starts using money to buy things she wants. She starts fixating on pregnant women and we, as intelligent viewers, intuit that she’s likely developing a maternal instinct. She sees romantic images/scenarios on television and we glean that she’s learning how to find and secure a mate. Sure, some characters are heard speculating on her behavior after the fact, but that’s just so we can stay abreast of just how much the team knows about her at any given point. Donaldson never has Henstridge or young Michelle Williams, who plays Sil as a child, say anything to hokily choreograph her next move like, “what are these magical green pieces of paper you’re using to buy food and how do I get some?” or “wow, I’d like to have me a baby too!” Donaldson treats his audience with great respect in that way.

This same respect he shows his characters too. Now, I know you’re probably thinking that that’s a load of hogwash given all the nudity in the film, and there’s probably a case to be made for that. What I’m referring to though is the fact that Species ostensibly lacks a clear villain. Who we see as the protagonist throughout the film shifts as well, as we open following Sil and slowly veer more heavily toward the team chasing her. If there are any villains in the story, it’s the unseen, off-world aliens who sent the human race instructions for creating Sil under the guise of a friendly gesture. Sil simply reacts throughout the story as any sentient being with a self-preservation instinct would, defending herself from outside threats and, when safe, acting on her primal urge to procreate. The team too consistently acts in ways that we’d expect them to act logically and they’re overall goal is one we completely identify with: defend the human race from a seemingly hostile alien species.

If the film has any major flaw narratively, it’s that the climax is, by constant, straightforward creature feature material. Pregnant Sil becomes the H.R. Giger-version of alien Sil and the team hunts her through the sewers, all with no sense of that nuanced Sil character that had been developed before. No longer is she portrayed as a character with whom we empathize. She’s a straight-up monster, far removed from the character Henstridge and Williams developed earlier in the film.

It’s also during the climax that the film’s at its weakest in terms of visual effects. Though there are some notably unconvincing uses of CG in the first half of the film, that CG was generally tempered with terrific practical effects, occasionally seamlessly blending the two even. Later in the climax, however, the believably tactile practical effects disappear almost entirely and the now (in 2017) tragically-dated CG Sil starts bouncing off cavern walls, weakening in the long-term what is otherwise an incredibly strong creature feature.

In spite of its few shortcomings, Species is a film the demands reappraisal if you’ve not seen it in recent years, and Scream Factory’s 2-disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition is without a doubt the only way to go at this point with its stunning new 4K scan of the film’s interpositive, which may not do the CG any favors but delivers a pristine image with deep colors and shadows otherwise. The first disc includes the film along with two commentary tracks, while the second disc is packed with bonus content. Special features on disc two include:

-a brand new 36-minute featurette produced for the release by Ballyhoo including behind-the-scenes footage and newly-conducted interviews with Donaldson and other members of the crew,

-an interview with Henstridge originally conducted for the Species II release,

-vintage featurettes about Giger’s contributions to the film and other aspects of the production,

-the alternate ending,

-theatrical trailer,

-and production design, creature design, and still galleries.

 

[Scream Factory also previously released Species II (1998) on Blu-ray as well as a Blu-ray double feature of Species III (2004) and Species: The Awakening (2007) if you’re interested in working your way through the entire franchise.]

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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