SPECIES - Blu-ray review

Instead of being an effective science-fiction horror movie, it played out like a really bad Cinemax Late Night feature.

DeanWink

Director Roger Donaldson was blessed with a good cast and a great pair of breasts. He also had a healthy budget and H.R. Giger's talented eye for monstrous creations. The resulting mess is the 1995 science-fiction horror film "Species" that only leaves a lasting impression of how wonderful Natasha Henstridge's breasts looked in their cinematic debuts. Sir Ben Kingsley couldn't save this film. Michael Madsen couldn't kick enough tail end in this film. Forest Whitaker and Alfred Molina weren't much of a help either. All of this great talent, all of the leading actress's beauty and "Species" is still a film that is hard to sit through during the first sitting and nearly impossible to watch more than twice. With flat acting, an unimaginative script and special effects that have not help up nicely in the past decade, "Species" is an odd choice for Sony's evolving Blu-Ray format.

Natasha Henstridge is a human girl named Sil who was created by combining alien DNA that was captured with the SETI program with her own human DNA. As a young girl, she was evolving at an alarming rate and the head doctor of her experiment Xavier Fitch (Sir Ben Kingsley) decided to pull the plug and destroy the girl with fire. That backfired and Sil escaped. Fitch knows that Sil must be destroyed before she can breed and her offspring eradicates humankind. He enrolls the help of a empathy, Dan Smithson (Forrest Whitaker), a professional killer Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen), and two specialized doctors, Dr. Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger) and Dr. Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina). They believe that Sil is racing to fulfill her natural instinct to mate and the five track rush against time to destroy her as she seduces and kills her potential mates.

Henstridge was fine in her portrayal as the naïve and predatorial Sil. She flashed her beautiful chest quite frequently in the film and seemed comfortable in the dumb and deadly blonde role. She is a lovely lady and the script only asked her to seduce and let the special effects do the rest. Ben Kingsley added nothing to the film. He just ran around and barked commands. This role entitled him no opportunity to show that he is a great actor and his role in this film was to simply lend his name to the credits. Michael Madsen can be a great badass. However, he only gets to talk tough and the film's cinematic climax lets him shoot a gun once or twice. All talk and no walk makes for a boring Madsen performance. Forrest Whitaker's character was perhaps the best character in the film. I found myself laughing at his Long Island Iced Tea scene during the screening, even after seeing it a few times before. The rest of the cast are also wallflowers who really do not dance on screen.

The film's special effects may have been decent in their day, but in 2006, they do not hold up well. The added resolution of Blu-Ray's High Definition picture betray them any chance they can. The dream sequences that plague Sil look quite murky and dull. Sil's digital effects do not blend in with the rest of the film and she now is quite apparent at being digitally created. The film looks very dated and though it was a product of a time when digital effects were just coming into their own, "Species" lacks any ooh-ahh factor because of their primitive nature. H.R. Giger has done wonderful work over the years and the monsters he created for "Alien" are still some of the best looking. Sil looks like something a poor imposter of Giger would have done. It tries to be both erotic and scary and ends up being neither. The look of Sil is quite over the top and something less visual would have worked nicely.

The screenplay does have some merit to it and had the film been done with a smaller budget or been executed differently, it would have had a better chance to succeed. Unfortunately, big named actors were thrown in to the fray when they were not needed and too much time and worry were spent on making the film look expensive when good horror does not necessarily need eye popping creatures. One or two altercations with Sil before finally bringing her down would have added some excitement and action for her five pursuers instead of giving them much of nothing to do for almost the entire picture. Most of the film focused on Sil trying to find mates and reasons to remove her top. Instead of being an effective science-fiction horror movie, it played out like a really bad Cinemax Late Night feature.

Video:

"Species" has never been a great looking film on home video. I had originally purchased the title on LaserDisc (having never seen it theatrically and thinking it would be worth buying). Years later I would pick up the special edition of the film for about five dollars on DVD to replace my LaserDisc title in my collection. Both were heavily ridden with film grain and neither was impressive too look at. About the only time the picture was worth a look was when Natasha was naked. The DVD was an upgrade over the LaserDisc, but it did not compare with other films of the same age. The Blu-Ray release of the film carries over many of the same flaws that plagued the DVD release and though it too is an improvement, "Species" still does not look very good.

The level of detail in the film ranges from being good to not-so-good. Some scenes exhibit high level of detail and the picture is clean. Other moments find a higher than acceptable amount of film grain and lack of detail. Colors are typically good and nicely saturated. Black levels are good, though in the final climax when film grain is quite problematic, the black levels get weak and the dark scenes are not nearly as effective as they would have been if the shadows were truly deep, foreboding and dark. I didn't notice many flaws in the digital compression of the title and the dropouts that were commonplace in earlier Sony releases. Macroblocking, stepping and other flaws could not be found. Though an improvement, "Species" on Blu-Ray was far from being ‘beyond high definition.'

Sound:

Sony has provided English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and English Uncompressed PCM 5.1. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital Mix is also provided. "Species" sounds adequate and is not a disappointing sounding release, but it hardly rises above the soundtracks provided on the previous DVD release. The Uncompressed PCM soundtrack is perhaps the weakest such track yet to appear on Blu-Ray, but this is not necessarily a flaw in the handiwork of the disc manufacturers and more of a problem with less than exciting source materials. Christopher Young's musical score sounds fine enough. Dialogue is mostly intelligible, but a few lines of dialogue are muddied with the sound effects. Where the soundtrack is disappointing is that most of the action takes place solely on the front stage. Not many sounds can be heard from the rear channels and the subwoofer remains very silent through much of the film. "Species" sounds fine, but is unengaging in a home theater setting.

Extras:

"Species" can lay claim to being the first Blu-Ray title that rises above its standard definition sibling in having additional supplements added to it. The two audio commentaries that could be found on the 2004 DVD release have found their way to the Blu-Ray title. The Director and Actor's Commentary includes director Roger Donaldson and actors Natasha Henstridge and Michael Madsen. This was an entertaining commentary and the three seemed to have enjoyed themselves during the making of the picture. I enjoy Madsen as an actor and enjoyed listening to him here. The second Directory, Producer & Visual Effects Commentary gave a detailed look at the making of the picture and included Donaldson, producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund and makup effects creator Steve Johnson. For those interested with the making of this film, this is a good listen, but may be boring for casual viewers.

Two featurettes that were absent from the previous standard definition releases have found their way to the Blu-Ray disc. Presented in 4:3 480i definition video, the two mini-documentaries run for about a half hour. I do not remember if they are composed of the same material that was on the LaserDisc, but I do know they were not on the standard definition release. Designing a Hybrid looks at work that was done to bring the transformation of Sil from her human to alien form. H.R. Giger at Work was a great look into the world of artist H.R. Giger and his eccentricities. I found this second supplement to be the most entertaining part of the disc and just had wished it were longer. There are some previews and a plethora of subtitle selections, but the theatrical trailer from the standard definition release is MIA. Still, it is nice to see Blu-Ray exhibiting more features than the older release.

Closing Thoughts:

I love science-fiction / horror films. It is easily one of my favorite genres. Unfortunately, "Species" played off like a horrible mixture of "Aliens" with "Syngenor" and any of the poor Cinemax Late Night flicks. With a great cast and H.R. Giger's artwork, "Species" fell horribly flat. The entire picture felt like an exercise in getting Natasha Henstridge to take off her shirt. I'm somewhat thankful for that, as she is an incredibly attractive woman, but I wanted to watch a movie and not just a nice pair of boobs. Effects have not held up well over the years and "Species" look more dated than some films ten years older than it. The Blu-Ray transfer is adequate without any glaring problems. The source materials are limited and this causes a limited high definition transfer. Supplements were an improvement over the previous single-disc release. If you like the film, it is an upgrade over the older release, otherwise I am not sure I'd even recommend it as a rental.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
7
Extras
5
Film Value
5