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Director: Roger Donaldson

USA - 1995

    Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!    


Who doesn’t like shape-shifter movies?  Well, I suppose paranoids; after all, if they can assume any form they like, there’s no way to tell when they’re coming to get you.  That’s part of the horror of the Alien Bounty Hunter on The X-Files, playUnfortunately, it was his agent, with the script for Species...ed by Eddie Fioré (yes, yes, I know the man’s name is Brian Thompson, but it’s easier to remember his character’s name from Kindred the Embraced, believe it or not; that may have been the longest continuos role I think I’ve seen him play, though his ABH appearances have no doubt surpassed his Fioré screen time, by this point).  But of course, shape-shifting from human form to human form is only the tip of the iceberg; the real joy comes in when shifting from human form to… well, anything else, really.  Even a tile floor, like in Terminator 2, is pretty cool.  Full-on total-morphic shape-shifting allows you to pretty much go nuts in terms of special effects.  Anything’s possible, like that way-gross head-spider from John Carpenter’s The Thing.  Heck, most shape-shifting movies ignore all rules of conservation of mass, which you would think would be the one single biological rule that a shifter able to work on a cellular level would have to follow (see our review of Proteus for a prime example).  With that level of suspension of disbelief, you can turn a mouse into a monster with just a few stretching sounds and some CGI.  What’s not to like?

So back when Species was being advertised, they showed a bunch of the “scary” morphing shapes.  It was a plus that they had contracted with H. R. Giger to design the creatures; he’s one of the SF world’s creepiest designers.  The design for Alien alone was enough to cement his reputation as the sci-fi freakshow designer of choice.  Of course, now that he’s getting old (I was under the impression he was fairly old already, back in 1979), we’ll have to look for someone else to handle the job.

But back to Species.  As it turns out, I have a fairly clear memory of seeing this in the theater.  Both my lovely and talented wife (wife-to-be at the time) George and I had been suckered in by the advertising, promising the usual “tuf grrl” action (well, perhaps it wasn’t as typical as it’s become since) with the extra twist of partial alien.  Plus, it had Forest Whitaker.  There’s very little I’d seen with him in which he hadn’t been enjoyable (I have since seen Diary of a Hitman, though come to think of it, he was perhaps the most watchable person in it; not high praise, mind you, but something).  And Michael Madsen was also a cool name at the time, and the alien girl was a cutie, so of course I was in.

Boy, what a train wreck.  Of course, that didn’t stop me from buying the laserdisc when I found it in the “under $5” bin.  But then again, I’ll buy just about anything for under $5.  I had recently watched thNaturally, this good deed does not go unpunished.e sequel in my Weekend of Pain, so I thought I would review the two movies together.  Wow, what a difference a double makes.

Now, this movie was made in 199#.  Certainly, the gore and creature effects represent a modern sensibility to horror movies, so you really have to question a movie that still chooses to make it’s title sequence resemble nothing so much as This Island Earth.  Sci-fi green nebulas, starscapes, and big reception dishes galore.  There’s only so much of that you can watch before you really start to get bored.  Getting bored during the opening credits really isn’t a good sign.  I wonder if they were trying to develop a kind of retro feel with that slow opening, make it more of a traditional creature feature.  If so, the aforementioned modern elements rather spoiled the effect.  Tremors did a better job, but then again, it’s a better movie, too.

Incidentally, there is a romance subplot played up between two of the “hero” characters, which makes them the most significant 100% human characters.  And yet, 50% of that romance subplot, Marg Helgenberger, only gets an “also starring” credit.  I can understand that with the ingenue main character, you can put “introducing Natasha Henstridge” and put her last in the actor credits.  But Marg's been working fairly constantly since 1982!  Granted, most of it is on TV, and she hasn't been in the limelight until lately, but come on, she deserves a better listing than that.

Anyway, the credits end, finally.  Then we have a bit of text to start things off, though it basically just explains SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life.  I won’t bother with a repeat of it, because if you’re bothering to read this, you probably have watched X-Files, or Contact, or Starman, or any number of other shows that deal with it more in-depth than this movie.

Then we cut to a girl (Michelle Williams, from Dawson's Creek, But I'm a Cheerleader, and Prozac Nation) in a bubble.  Approximately 12 years old or so, she lives in a little cell that’s smaller than most prison cells you see in the movies.  Cool Hand Luke’s box might have been bigger.  It certainly had more privacy, like an actual opaque wall.  What an awful place to keep a little girl.  She wakes up, and looks around.  People in haz-mat suits are making preparations, while Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley and some mooks look on from above.  She tries to figure out what’s going on, confused and scared, and looks up to Fitch for some sort of answer.

I should note here that Kingsley takes an attitude of motionless alertness throughout this entire movie.  He seems preternaturally aware; it feels like his eyes are bugging out when they’re really not.  If this were Star Trek, he’d be in the proces"This is even bigger than computers, Marty."s of devolving into a spider monkey or something.  Perhaps part of this is because he knows how crappy this movie is; he certainly doesn’t emote any more than he has to, in most situations.  On the whole, that does give him a certain icy detachment, but then when he does emote, it really rings false.  Can’t have it both ways, guys.

People start bringing in these canisters of cyanide gas, and the girl gets understandably panicked.  It’s not clear whether or not she can read, but it seems she can understand language, as she looks up at Fitch, and he says “I’m sorry” and turns away.  She repeats “I’m sorry,” just so we get that she read his lips (foreshadowing), and then really freaks out.  The camera stays on her, which is just cruel.  Actually, many things in this movie are cruel and unnecessary, but at least it’s better than some.

The gas starts to fill up her little cubicle.  Fitch can’t watch it anymore – he turns away from the catwalk, and goes over… to a monitor.  Apparently, he can see video of it just fine.  Things get all cloudy, and the girl fades from sight.  Looks like someone’s put glycerin on Fitch’s cheeks, but they’re poor substitutes for tears.  Aw, buck up, little camper.  Seriously, though, we know this is a total crock, because scientists don’t cry.  Anyway, back to the cloudy transparent bedroom.  Then, BAM, she punches out some of the glass.  Why didn’t you try that before?  Then she dives out of the gap, somersaulting down the stairs, and booking it out of the lab.  This is all very impressive, especially since we don’t really have evidence that she’s ever been out of that bubble.  She’s booking down the halls in her little slippers; you’d think she’d slide on the floor a bit more than she does.  Oh, well.

She’s never been outside, as far as we can tell, so how would she know where to go when she breaks out of the building?  I suppose “away” might be enough of an impulse to direct her running, but how would she realize the freight train would be a means out?  As far as she knows, the train could be going back to the installation.  Still, she hops it, and coasts away in a boxcar.  It doesn’t stop the authorities from figuring out where she went, but it does give her some breathing room.

Now we get some creepy alien images; Giger is starting to earn his pay, now.  Then she is surprised by a drifter, and she mangles him and tosses him across the boxcar.  Then she goes and rifles through his pack.  It’s our first glimpse into how she feels no remorse.  Then again, she is necessarily a sociopath, if only by her upbringing.  We eventually see how quickly she learns, but she’s been raised in a bubble by scientists studying her as an alien being, there’s no way she learned how to act normally.  Eventually, though, the train goes by a station, and she hops out, dressed a bit more conventionally (just enough to blend in).  She figures out money, and how to further blend in by stealing a bag and getting on a train.  The interesting thing is, she finds an empty two-room cabin.  I don’t know if any of you have ever ridden a train, but in America, cabin compartments are like first class seats on an airplane; they’re expensive, and exclusive.  Plus, they fill up quickly, because train journeys can be days in length, and nobody wants to sit in the equivalent of airplane coach seats for the whole time.  So it really doesn’t make sense, but hey, it’s a movie.  She goes through her stolen bag, and among other things, finds a mini-TV.  The first news story is about an earthquake (foreshadowing a weird throw-away comment later on?), then moves on.  Like any kid, she’s drawn to the moving picture, and her IQ goes down, immediately.

Actually, this long-ish learning sequence reminds me very much of the classical Frankenstein.  When the monster is thrown out by the good doctor, he hides instinctively, then learns to speak and read simply by observing others.  Any customs, habits, emotional responses, or beliefs, he basically developed by observation and deduction.  This girl (no name as yet) is the same way; imagine what she learned from the scientists before she left.  No wonder she has no guilt, nor much of a sense of the wortAnd the pre-teen rodeo is about to begin...h of lives of others.

We see her steal some money and food, and some folks have close calls with her, but she hides.  I suppose this gives us the idea that she doesn’t always kill, that she understands the value of stealth.  It also gives us an idea of how strong she is, as she splinters the lock off a drawer she wants to get into.  Of course, she hasn’t spoken as yet, so it seems like she might be mute.  She does seem to understand English, though, when a nice lady conductor (Esther Scott) sells her a ticket.  Oh, and it also seems like she’s never eaten a banana before.  Like K-Pax, she goes peel and all.  Maybe that’s where they got the idea from.  (“What?  That wasn’t a 100% original movie?  You lying reviewer!”)

Now we start to get introduced to some of the other characters, just two of the four that are being gathered.  Everyone’s favorite dancing psychopath Michael Madsen, in New York, gives his cat to a neighbor to watch over.  Aw, look at the big scary guy caring so deeply about a chubby gray pet!  This is Preston “Press” Lennox.  Then we see Forest Whitaker as Dan Smithson, talking to a psychologist about how his co-workers talk about him.  Co-workers where?  He feels too much, apparently.  He feels things so strongly that he knows when someone’s about to knock on the door, and he knows that it’s for him.  Yes, he’s an “empath,” though apparently this form of empathic ability helps him read the future and get clairvoyant imagery, as well, so it might be more accurate to simply term him a generalized psychic.  And yes, I have read way too much about this sort of thing.

We get more nightmare imagery, of the little girl being chased by skull-trains.  Actually, the skull-train is kind of neat.  Might make an excellent Halloween ride.  It’s organic and creepy, but not actually sickening, unlike some of the other elements in this film.  Then the girl wakes up.  Oh, it was just a dream!  That’s what too much TV will do for you, as will all the junk food you’ve been pounding down, girl.  Then she starts having pain, and her hands and face start changing.  At first I thought, bumps on the face, it’s just pimples, but no, it’s worse than that.  I’d say when you start growing tentacles, you’re beyond the usual bounds of puberty.  Granted, I’m only using personal experience, here, so correct me if I’m wrong.  I do have to question any biological system of maturation which causes such obvious agony and confusion to the recipient.  If you’re going to have pain, at least have the forethought to have some instinctive cues to get yourself prepared for the ordeal.  Some endorphins, at least, come on...  I mean, human adolescence can be physically painful, but it’s more commonly a mental and emotional trauma, and the physical changes are often more embarrassing than agonizing.

We get to see Press land at Fitch’s compound, and watch as he is introduced to the others of Fitch’s motley team.  Dan identifies his profession only as an empath.  Apparently, that’s how he makes his living, helping police departments track people with his psychic impressions.  Is that why his co-workers were talking about him?  Well, hey, buddy, if that’s how you bill yourself, better get used to it.  Alfred Molina is Steven Arden, an anthropology and sociology professor from Harvard.  Marg Helgenberger plays Dr. Laura Becker, a molecular biologist.  And Press?  He calls himself “a freelance solution to some of our government’s problems… the kind that people don’t usually like to talk about.”  In other words, he hunts people, the government’s own hitman.  Oh, sure, like they’ve just got one.

Back on the Horror Train, that nice conductor lady comes back, and finds no little girl, but a big, ugly cocoon kind of thing.  Before she can react, something shoots out of the mess and kills her.  Given the calorie intake the girl needed, I’m surprised she didn’t instinctively eat her.  I guess the alien in her has a problem with cannibalism, even though she’s only partly human.  A little bit later, a naked and gore-covered Natasha Henstridge wiggles her way out of the chrysalis, and lands athletically on her feet, straddling the body of the nice conductor lady.  It’s our first of many glimpses of Henstridge’s breasts, and it kind of sets the tone: slightly arousing in theory, but unnerving in practice.  As much as I enjoy nudity, the situation can quite offset any enjoyment I might extract from the glimpse I get, and this is one of those situations.  I’m not sur"So, let me get this straight, we all jump just before the elevator starts?"e which approach is unfriendlier to women: showing T&A in a conventional sense, or turning them into Freudian and disturbing monsters.  Mind you, I know which one I like better, but I can’t help that I’m male.

At the lab, Fitch enters. He gives them the background: in 1974, the SETI program broadcast a message, “about a quarter of a kilobyte,” containing various data, not unlike the Voyager probes.  He doesn’t mention how this message was encoded, in binary, or whatever.  We have enough trouble with translating between MS-Dos and Apple, imagine how much trouble a completely alien species is going to have!  Personally, I think Con simplified it a great deal.  In any case, part of the message was a description of a strand of human DNA.  Time passed.  Areceibo received message in January, 1993, from extraterrestrial sources.  Nineteen years; given a minimum of a year for decoding, and turn-around time, that means they could be about nine light years away.  Alternately, they could be much closer, but waiting longer to respond.  There were two communications, presumably using the same encoding method that the SETI people used in the transmission: one a superior catalyst for methane, providing a clean renewable energy source (read: build trust).  The second message was a sequence of DNA and instructions on how to combine it with human DNA (read: exploit trust).  Those wacky aliens, figuring out how to do all this with just a short transmission.  Well, that and all those bumpkins they’ve been kidnapping, I suppose.

Fitch continues to narrate his little video presentation.  The new DNA sequence was injected into one hundred human ova.  Whose ova, by the way?  Where were these stolen or donated from?  Aren’t there certain legal ramifications to this kind of human experimentation, not to mention ethical issues?  Ah, but that’s right, these are Scientists.  Like the freakazoid said in Bats, “We make the world better.”  Liz, over there at “And You Call Yourself A Scientist,” I do know what pain you endure, dear woman.  Anyway, 96% of the ova died.  Two were stored in the deep freeze, one was left to grow.  No idea of what happened to the last.  The growing girl was code named Sil.  Sil?  What does that stand for?  Is it a cultural referent I’m not aware of?  Names like Manticore, or Perseus, or even Eve, those have some kind of meaning behind them.  Sil?  The hell?

The girl grows very, very fast.  Turns out we first saw her at the beginning of the movie at the age of three months.  Anyway, in yet another misogynist dig, Fitch says they decided to make it female, so that it would be more docile and controllable.  Oh, boy.  Press says what the audience is thinking: “Guess you guys don’t get out much.”  Turns out, also, that Dan can pick up psychic signals from videotape, although most of his input is pretty much blindingly obvious.  “She didn’t like being locked up like that.  She didn’t like being alone like that.”  At three months, she was having “terrible nightmares,” and in the grasp of one, a fleshy spike seems to be trying to grow out of the back of her neck.  Oh, yes, hints of shape-shifting at such a tender age.  That’s when they decided to terminate the experiment, but she broke out.  It’s good that the security camera footage seems to be pretty much the same as that which we saw during the actual break-out.  Slow motion and everything.  That’s quite lazy, actually, but I guess they spent most of their budget on Giger and making his designs come to life.

Now the group has to figure out where she would go.  The Discovery Channel gives the answer: she’s a predator, because her eyes are in front, to fix on her prey.  Thank you, Dan, but that means all of humanity are predators.  What does that prove?  Calculating instinct based on structure really only works if it provides some kind of distinction, but all humans have eyes in the front of their heads. For that matter, so do all primates.  Are you going to say the mountain gorilla is a predator?  Despite the fact it’s completely vegetarian?  Oh, fine, don’t listen to me.  Listen to Press, instead: after summing up the situation in brutally blunt terms, he says “Nobody ever asked me to find what they didn’t want dead.”  Which allows Dan to feel sympathy for Press, but quite frankly, that’s not the point.  They’re a rag-tag team of heroes, funded by a black-op science division, hunting down a little girl.  Magnificent Seven, this isn’t.  For that matter, it’s not The Dirty Dozen, nor even Kelly’s Heroes.

Anyway, in Los Angeles (where it’s cheaper to shoot, because the studio is, like, right there), Sil steps off the train, dressed in the nice conductor lady’s clothing.  Which isn’t the least bit dirtied up by the dripping ick that had been in the cabin.  Convenient, that.  It does also prove that Sil is a practical monster, at least.  Everyone’s looking for a little girl, not a woman, and certainly not a hot woman (must be those alien genes), so she walks right by the pre-teen blonde girl holding area.  She has yet to speak, actually, which is probably a record for a character not speaking in a movie. Well, Kurt Russel’s character Fighting aliens...with SCIENCE!!!in Soldier perhaps gives her a run for her money, but still, it’s a long time.

Sil wanders through LA, while the others investigate the remains on the train.  They figure out she’s metamorphosized, while she’s buying clothing  (a wedding dress, actually, which is rather ironic, considering her approach to intimacy, viewed later).  Arden does make a comment as to how LA is the city of the future, where there’s no social mores, no limits.  Actually, I don’t think LA is quite that free, but it is home to a lot of people with few solid rules.  It’s kind of a pop culture view of LA, so I’ll forgive it.  Still, it sounds stilted, even from the mouth of such a talented actor as Alfred Molina.

Three notes: one, in LA, nobody seems to care if you walk around in a 1980s-style wedding dress and stare at babies and pregnant people (telegraphing a message to your audience with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer on a skull).  Two, when you’re a covert search-and-destroy team working for a secret branch of the government’s science initiative, be sure to stay in a five-star hotel whenever you can, because they can afford it.  Three, half-alien girls really need to learn how to use the crosswalk, or one of these days, they’ll get hit by a car (foreshadowing).

Sil finally settles in a sleazy motel, with the world’s most conversational and helpful slimy desk clerk (Gary Bullock).  She turns on the TV, and the first three notable things she sees are a black-and-white movie of a car rolling down a hill and exploding, then the hotel’s porno channel, then a commercial for hair color dye (foreshadowing, foreshadowing, and foreshadowing; boy, you’d think there wasn’t much going on outside of plot-relevant imagery). 

There’s a lab that the “good” guys have set up, where they try and reproduce a “pure-strain” alien.  This is where Fitch’s accent really starts wandering, as does his motivation.  And who designed this lab?  Okay, I can understand why they build the testing area with self-destruct mechanism.  But a grating for a floor, you’re just asking for something important to fall through.  Which, naturally, it does.  And then Fitch won’t open the door.  Obviously, the movie is trying to fabricate some more tension.  If they were smart, they would have let the trapped people out of the testing area while the alien DNA was still in the microscopic stage.  Instead, Fitch says there’s too much risk of contamination.  But eventually, when the thing is out and attacking, then they have to let them out.  Blatantly manipulative and basically a fabricated error.  Not as ludicrous as the “accidents” of Final Destination, but no less contrived.  Still, everybody gets out alive except for the "pure-strain” alien critter, which grows from a cell to a big toothy slimy tentacled thing in a matter of seconds.  Probably for the best that it didn’t make it; the other kids in school would have teased it, and it would grow into a bitter old toothy slimy tentacled thing by the time it was two days old.

Mind you, I agree that protocols are generally useful, that’s what they’re there for.  However, you have to make sure everybody knows them.  If they knew they’d run the risk of being destroyed if they messed up, I’m sure they would have been much more careful with everything.  Then again, what do I know, I just have a real-world operational level of common sense.

The World’s Most Helpful Slimy Hotel Desk Clerk (read that both ways) directs Sil to a local meat rack, er, I mean, nightclub.  She’s not particularly subtle at first, but learns fast, particularly after murdering her first rival.  In certain areas, she’s gaining subtlety, but in others, no luck.  Anyway, she ends up going home with a guy, Mr. Sleazy, just as the team comes in (clued in by the WMHSHDC).  It’s Sil’s first exposure to driving a car, so she pays close attention, the Frankenstein Effect still in play.

Mr. Sleazy happens to be a guy by the name of Robbie, and he’s awfully blunt, but I guess that works in LA, with the kind of party girls he’d normally go home with.  After some initial creepy foreplay, she senses something amiss, as her darting glances off to the side indicate.  Of course, given his approach so far, it’s no surprise that he doesn’t take rejection well, so she’s forced to kill him.  We see her showering some of the blood off, apparently just as Press and Laura are coming in, but she seems to get away clean.  It’s possible they may have been playing with time in the sense of showing us things slightly out of actual sequence, but there isn’t really anything to tell us that right off.  In any case, the investigation reveals that Robbie was diabetic, and that’s likely what made him an unfit mate.  Boy, if you don’t measure up in Sil’s standards, you’re in trouble.

There are lots of things we really don’t need to see, including more alien sex scenes.  Creepy, yes, and telling as part of what Sil is becoming, but not really pleasant.  Of course, when Sil wakes up from this particular alien sex dream, she’s in Robbie’s car, which is rather the worse for wear with her practicing driving.  It’s out of gas, so she just gets out and walks.  Mind you, later on, she’s learned the usefulness of gas, but there’s no indication of how or why she learns such a thing, which is a surprising omission for this movie.  So she’s walking, and she’s distracted by a roller-skater, and then someone hits her with a car.  Apparently, she’s standing in the middle of the road (foreshadowing payoff).  For all her fast learning, she still hasn’t picked up that you have to be careful crossing the street; odd hole in her knowledge base, that, particularly as she’s had ample opportunity to learn it.  Though why the guy wouldn’t see her just standing there, and why he’d just take off, I guess those are just plot conveniences (or, as Jabootu would say, IITS).

So a nice guy calls it in (an actor with the highly dramatic real name of Whip Hubley), and at the hospital, puts her care on his credit card (single necessary clue).  In the meantime, the team is trying to figure out what’s going on with Sil, why the aliens would send that particular DNA.  As it stands, the best comparison they have is in the animal kingdom: when a new species of predator is introduced into a closed system with existing predators, the "Why, yes, Press, I do have a straight razor and a tape of '70s classics, why do you ask?"weaker species of predator dies out.  Assuming humans are the predators, that constitutes a fairly negative prognosis, as you might imagine.  By this point, they’ve deduced that Sil’s major purpose is to breed.  Her life cycle demands it, and if she has a boy, that boy could impregnate a large number of women.  Between their homicidal reactions, their fast growth, and their adaptive qualities, it’s definitely a case of death through advantageous breeding.  Well, dis-advantageous for us regular humans, I should say.  But you get the point.

So, she heals her shoulder-blade injury in front of the doctor’s eyes, but doesn’t kill him.  Guess she hasn’t learned that even knowledge can be a threat.  When Mr. Nice Guy (Whip, not Jackie, more’s the pity) comes up and tries to make sure she’s okay, she just says, “Can we go?”  She’s already attached herself to him, and I’m not even sure if she knows how he helped her out.  She could do a lot worse, mind you; he’s portrayed as the epitome of SoCal New Agey wholesomeness… not that he’s adverse to a little playing around in the hot tub, mind you.  More opportunity for Natasha’s twin talents to be shown.  However, now she wants to move faster than he’s comfortable.  Wow, never thought I’d hear a guy say that.  However, when the team shows up, she is forced to kill him.  Not just by drowning, mind you, but she has to excrete a tentacle from someplace and jam that into his throat.  Why?  Not sure.  But she does go all Giger, in a close-up.  As they should, they keep her alien form kinda secret for the moment.

I guess the tentacle was necessary to inflict some damage so they could have blood in the water of the hot tub.  Press and Laura are on the scene again.  He does an interesting thing that has the hint of verisimilitude, crouching before peeking around a corner.  It does make sense, because if you’re expecting an attack, you don’t want to be where they’re going to be looking for you.  But that’s pretty much the only cool bit.  Otherwise, we get a fairly standard Stalker-cam, though it sounds like it’s a Predator.  I suppose aliens all sound the same.  Eventually, we get the only real scare of the scene, a Spring-Loaded Squirrel™.  I guess the Spring-Loaded Cat™ was rented out that day.  And who ever heard of a squirrel acting like that?  Wild squirrels never do that, that’s for sure.  I used to live on a squirrel-infested college campus, even the squirrels that would eat from your hands, just about, would never do that kind of thing.  But hey, when you need a cheap scare, might as well blame it on a small furry animal.  Have we ever seen a Spring-Loaded Iguana?  I think I remember a Spring-Loaded Piñata in It’s Alive, which is the only non-furry representative of the kind I can recall.

Naked Sil gets a car by popping in on this housewife-kinda woman, and asking her for help.  Well, of course a normal person is going to help some naked woman.  Little does she know she’s a sociopathic alien shape-shifter.  Well, not quite alien, but close enough.  Sil uses the car and the woman’s clothes to follow the team, reading their lips to see what they’re doing (foreshadowing payoff), and follows them to see where they are.  Good tactics, learning about your enemy, but her driving has really, really improved.  She almost meets up with Press, but avoids being seen at the last minute.  This doesn’t stop us from dissolving the scene into some twisted sex fantasy that, of course, ends up all Giger-ized.  Then she wakes up in a bed, lying next to the housewife lady, who is tied down.

This is where the movie kind of runs through what amounts to its philosophical point, for all that’s worth.  In her exposition to the housewife, she wonders who she is, who sent her.  She makes the comment that her nightmares tell her who she is.  Apparently, being birthed (though how did they do that?  Decant her from a jar?) and raised for those three months in a lab, she apparently thinks of herself as human.  But as she gets out into the world, she accepts her inner monster.  I guess it’s all that killing she’s been doing.  She does “evil” things because that’s what she is.  Another Frankenstein reference?  But that monster encompassed love by the end, not just instinct.  All we’ve been shown so far seems to indicate that Sil is driven by instinct, her biological impulses all the stronger for her alien DNA, and her ability to carry out those impulses is similarly increased.  There is evidence that humans are primarily instinctively driven, with an overlay of intelligence to rationalize those instincts.  Our mating behaviors, our social interactions, many other elements of our lives can be easily and successfully compared to that of other primates.  Perhaps the makers of the movie were trying to teach by exaggeration.

Then again, I’m probably giving them too much credit.

So the captive lady is begging to be let go.  “Please, I wouldn’t hurt you!”  To which Sil replies “Yes, you would.”  It might go better if she’d added “you just don’t know it yet.”  Apparently, the experience of being hunted, combined with all the killing she’s been doing and her nightmares, are giving her a decidedly chilly attitude toward humanity.  Then she goes out with garden shears and clips off her thumb.  Yuk.  But it grows back, which is kind of cool, and then she flexes it comically.  Then she goes to cut off her prisoner’s thumb.  We don’t see the cut, but we do see her throwing the thumb away as she leaves the house.  Yeah, Sil, just put it right on top of that full garbage can.  I’m sure the lid will keep anybody from noticing it.  Plus, I’ll bet there are no neighborhood dogs… oh, now, that’s just grotesque.  I’m creeping myself out even more than the movie is.

We now go to a preparation montage.  To amuse yourself, you can imagine Smash Mouth’s “All Star” playing in the background, to give it that macabre surreality that it so desperately needs.  Plus, it’ll make it seem like a more recent movie.  Sil scouts a location, fills up a bunch of plastic containers with gasoline, then steals a car.  How she learned about gasoline and its use in cars, or where she got the containers is never explained.  Now she’s ready.

Back at the club, Dan and Arden are sitting at a table while Press and Laura are flirting with each other at the bar.  Why break up the team in a noisy, crowded club?  Well, I suppose to look for Sil better, but if you find her, it’ll be difficult to get their attention, what with the music and the dancing people, and them being all into each other.  I mean, they don’t even notice when Dan’s psychic impulses take him out back, looking around for Sil.  Which shows that, although he’s a useful as a sensor device, he’s got the self-preservation instincts of a lemming.  While we do have to endure a Spring-Loaded Homeless Man (!), we finally do have Sil appear, standing there and staring Dan down, which isn’t hard to do.  He stumbles back into the club, and we hear him yelling that she’s out back.  Naturally, everybody comes running right away, despite all the good and real problems with communication outlined above.  Ah, internal consistency in movies… it would be a wonderful thing.

Rather than killing Dan instantly, as she should do if she weren’t up to something, Sil dashes to her car, and we see thumbless woman is tied into the passenger seat, and the gasoline containers are in the back.  This is a stolen car, she’s stashed the woman’s car near her pre-scouted spot.  Savvy readers will be able to guess what happens next.  After an “exciting” chase, with helicopters and everything, Sil runs the car down the hill with the woman still in it.  It hits an electric company control box (transformer?  I don’t know what it is, really), and explodes (foreshadowing pays off again).  All that gas must have paid off, even though it’s the fumes that are flammable, not necessarily the gas itself.  In any case, they find a severed thumb in the pocket of the door that got ripped off (when Sil actually did jump out), and they figure that must be proof, if it turns out to be Sil’s DNA.  To their credit, both Press and Dan think it’s too convenient, too easy.  But Fitch calls a halt to their search, anyway.When caught in a strange man's room, bank on his sexual repression (note: results not typical)

Those of you who are fans of CSI (also with Marg Helgenberger, also as a science gal) will know that it’s not that easy to fool forensics.  Not only will they be able to tell there was an unusual amount of accelerants in the fire, they’ll also figure out the body was in the wrong place, and the traces left will not match Sil’s.  Then, also, someone’s bound to find the woman’s thumb, after she’s been declared a missing person, and then there’s enough suspicion that the hunt will be back on.  However, I don’t think it’s intended to be a permanent solution.  Sil is just buying time, because if she can have a son before the government catches on that she’s not really dead, then she still wins, even though she might be killed.  She will have ensured her genetic legacy, and that’s apparently what her instinct requires.  As long as the ruse gives her a chance to mate, it’s served its purpose.

Sil colors her hair (foreshadowing payoff) while the heroes have a drink in the apparently very popular hotel bar.  Press says he respected Sil, as an opponent.  He knows of four killings, a couple of skin-of-the-teeth escapes, a slack-jawed re-appearance followed by a listless car chase ending in a driver’s error crash; why he feels respect for these antics is not clear.  Fitch stays at the bar, watching like a preternaturally aware lemur (who is a predator, you know, because its eyes are in the front).  Laura and Press fabricate a reason to disagree, which gives Laura a chance to meet the newly-brunette Sil, who doesn’t kill her, for some reason.  Arden and Press get teetotaler Dan drunk on Long Island Iced Teas, while Laura goes up to her room.  Eventually, after the guys get a little bit silly (should have been good for comedy relief – it wasn’t), Press is encouraged to go up and see Laura.  Sil rides the elevator with him, making some inane earthquake remark (foreshadowing payoff, for what little it’s worth).  Laura does a little victory dance when Press shows up at her door; that’s kind of fun.  In fact, with a few exceptions, their whole foreplay sequence, with the giggling and falling over and such, comes across as perhaps the most natural part of the whole movie.  Then Sil has to go and spoil it by deducing what housekeeping’s keys can do…

In the bar.  Arden says “Those two over there, I bet they like unusual men like us.”  You’re very diplomatic, Arden.  You know, this is probably the first time in the movie you’ve really been at all useful to the audience.  Everything else you’ve contributed could probably have been said by just about any of the other team members.  But don’t worry, your main purpose is coming up.  In response to the “unusual men” comment, Dan says “women think I’m strange.”  Then he wants to go upstairs, leave the bar.  Most of the movie, with the possible exception of “discovering” Sil behind the club, Dan’s had the unenviable job of stating the obvious, perhaps in an attempt to confirm or drive home a particular point.  Don’t worry, Dan, you’ll end up earning your keep, as well.

Leaving Arden to put his foot in it, Dan goes up to lie down in his room.  Press and Laura are just about to get to it, though it starts moving into territory that’s less realistic and more like a porno by the time we cut away.  Sil’s listening in from the next room, which, surprise, surprise, turns out to be Arden’s.  We learn this when he walks in the door.  Sil hands him an explanation that is not only transparent, but doesn’t make logical sense, but, being the lonely academic confronted by a hot and affectionate babe, he buys it, and they start getting naked.

Something wakes Dan up, and he looks at the TV… it’s that same hair color commercial!  Don’t they have any budget for more than one commercial to show?  Boy, that Giger guy is expensive!  Anyway, for pretty much the first time since the mission began, Dan’s powers start getting useful.  Except under pressure.  Bear in mind that when a person’s major abilities are based on emotion, it’s probably not a good idea to be broadcasting a whole lot of hostility at him or her when you’re trying to get a straight answer.  In any case, this begins the final showdown.

The action moves quickly from the hotel to a much murkier environment, much more like the Nostromo… oh, wait, did I just make an Alien reference?  My, what’s come over me?  Who ever would have thought it?  It’s not like they don’t use similar organic-looking dim tunnels, or even that they use flame-throwers.  Actually, in all seriousness, I’m just surprised it took so long to get to this point.  Most Alien knock-offs don’t spend so much time in set-up, they get right to the tunnel-crawling.

In any case, Sil has obviously fully accepted her alien half, which allows her to go around in alien form much more comfortably.  She also seems to change size and mass as easily as dimension, which we all know violates laws of conservation of matter and energy.  But hey, it’s sci-fi, who’s going to notice?  Yeah, right.  Regardless, we move from murky to just silly territory, and people continue to act just nonsensically.  I mean, come on, you see a naked, crap-covered toddler this far underground, it doesn’t take a genius to figure it might be Sil’s kid.  But nobody wants to react appropriately until he goes into full creep-mode.  Not to mention the difficulties involved in suspending my disbelief over the whole situation that they can even survive in the chamber they find themselves in.  Number one, my (admittedly limited) knowledge of geology suggests that the air in such a chamber would be unbreathable.  Add a raging fire in an enclosed area, and the whole human group would likely be asphyxiated, even if the air was somehow good in the first place.  Maybe I’m the only one who notices that.

So, at the very end, the greater portion of the team survives, and there’s the required “The End… or Is It?” moment, which, for some reason, must be included in these movies.  And you’re left wondering what it all had to do with any of the points that seemed to be raised.

I’m not saying that every action “bug hunt” kind of movie has to have a great deal of thought or meaning, (though it wouldn’t hurt), but it really would be nice if the events at the end were some kind of culmination.  And I’m not talking some kind of The Haunting “It’s about family, it’s always been about family,” kind of cheap attempt at tying it together, no offense intended to Lilly Taylor.  Much as many hated it, the end of Alien 3 did have a significance in how Ripley had to hold on to the very beast bursting from her chest, had to embrace the monster that had come to define her so strongly.  For all its overblown sensuality, the end of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was about redemption and release through love (within the re-interpreted context of the original story, of course).  And even if they weren’t, one could make a case for it, which means there’s enough there to support it.  Those were endings that had some semblance of resonance with the rest of the story; there was an attempt, however marginal, to bring the story to some kind of thematic, dramatic end that fit.  Species, you just get a shoot-out, basically, and while that doesn’t exclude a meaningful ending by itself (witness The Killer), it doesn’t really square with the issues that have been raised, however superficially.

The questions of identity and instinct, the considerations of how thin is the veneer of civility in each of us, all those points were brought up merely to get to the rote sneaking-through-dark-narrow-ambush-territory to-have-some-battle-and-some-peril-and-suspend-someone-from-a-high-ledge sequence.  Thankfully, they avoided having the villain plunge from a great height, to get impaled on something sharp, as well as get decapitated, then blow up.  What is it about the need for overkill in today’s movies, a bad guy or gal isn’t dead until he or she has been thoroughly destroyed?  Personally, if more villains could die like El Guapo from Three Amigos, with a last minor gesture and a quiet exhalation, maybe then the whole action genre wouldn’t be so overbWow, Mondays, right?  It's always something.lown.  Dear Lord, I just wished more movies could be like Three Amigos!  Somebody slap me!

Without a sense of depth, without a thematic complexity, the movie is reduced to a fairly standard bug hunt, with a few interesting details.  However, the interesting details are not enough to outweigh the undertones of misogyny and blatant exploitation of Ms. Henstridge’s breasts.  Not that I mind the latter, but the former really annoys me, and once annoyed, the latter just seems more gratuitous than usual.  Even if that whole business doesn’t put you off, your enjoyment depends entirely on how easily you notice plot holes, or how much you cling to scientific fact, or how resentful you get at obvious manipulation of your emotions.  Actually, I shouldn’t rip on this movie’s science too badly; despite some serious (but common) flaws, they’re not as blatantly wrong-headed about basic physics, chemistry, or biology as the sequel (fodder for yet another review).  I’m not saying it’s good science, but at least there’s worse out there, for what little comfort that offers.

Needless to say, George detested the movie.  She has better taste than I.  And she’s also sensible enough not to sucker herself into watching it yet again for a review.  Yet another reason why I’m the designated dancing monkey-boy side of the relationship.



These are the times of which to cherish...

- Fitch’s personality disorder.  What the heck is up with you?  You pick these people for the job, then try and kill them or growl at them when it’s basically your own fault they can’t do their jobs, when you’re not peering at them like some feather-less owl.  You’re like a crazy person!  If you want a half-way solid role-model for the scientific method, look to Laura.  Fitch is just a lost cause, which is too bad, because I do so love to see Mr. Kingsley in action when he’s actually trying.

- Arden’s pillow talk.  I know you’re an intellectual and British, but certainly there’s something more intense you could say, particularly since the woman’s growing spines out of her back.  What do you expect from a comedian, though?

- Pretty much all of Whitaker’s Dan.  I mean, the man plays “twitchy” very well (Good Morning Vietnam, or Diary of a Hitman), but Dan is probably the textbook example.  He goes from that to the stillness and centeredness of Ghost Dog, though, who is not without quirks, but you can’t really call him twitchy, so this saves Forest from being my favorite twitchy actor.  I’ll settle for just enjoying his work.

- Madsen’s Lennox.  I don’ t know how this character can get away with not coming across as a psychopath, but somehow, he does.  And you even get to like him when he’s getting all playful with Dr. Laura (the ringing-false porno moment notwithstanding).  Maybe it was him who gave lessons to our favorite everyman and Chicago native John Cusak before he played in Grosse Pointe Blank.

- Speaking of Laura, I have to give Helgenberger credit for trying, but even her delivery of that claptrap couldn’t stop it from being noticeably bad.  However, it did seem to set a precedent for her playing science women.  Since she got herself a CSI gig doing something similar, I guess I can’t knock it too much.

- The dramatic moment of quiet for the pre-kill quip, which really, really doesn’t live up to the hype.  I love doing a picture by the numbers.  Not.


-- Copyright © 2002 by E. Mark Mitchell





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