Species is a 1995 American science fiction horror film directed by Roger Donaldson and written by Dennis Feldman. It stars Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger. In the film, a motley crew of scientists and government agents tries to track down and capture a killer alien seductress played by Natasha Henstridge before she successfully mates with a human male. It was given an R rating for "sci-fi violence, strong sexuality and, and some language". Due to her ruthlessness, the alien character was cited as an example of negative treatment of female sexuality and aliens by Hollywood. The design of Sil was also linked to a chupacabra sighting.
The film was conceived by Feldman in 1987, and was originally pitched as a film treatment in the style of a police procedural, entitled The Message. When The Message failed to attract the studios, Feldman re-wrote it as a spec script, which ultimately led to the making of the film. The extraterrestrial in Species, an alien woman named Sil, was designed by H. R. Giger, also responsible for the beings from the Alien franchise. The effects combined practical models done by Giger collaborator Steve Johnson and XFX, with computer-generated imagery done by Richard Edlund's Boss Film Studios. Giger felt the film and the character were too similar to Alien, so he pushed for script changes.
Most of the principal photography was done in Los Angeles, California, where the film is set. Several scenes were filmed in Utah and at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The film was poorly received by critics, but nevertheless turned out to be a box office success, grossing US$113 million ($176 million in 2016 dollars).
This 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 separate film, not as an official follow-up of the three previous films. Species was adapted into a novel by Yvonne Navarro and two comic book series by Dark Horse Comics, one of which was written by Feldman.
The alien is the result of the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) program. In 1974 Earth's scientists sent out transmissions with information about Earth and its inhabitants, DNA structure, etc., in hopes of finding life beyond Earth. Twenty years later, they receive two transmissions from an alien source. The first transmission was on how to create endless fuel effortlessly through a methane catalyst. Therefore, the scientists assume that this is a friendly alien species. But from a second alien transmission, the scientists receive information about an alien DNA sequence 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, hoping to induce a female with "more docile and controllable" traits. One of the one-hundred experimental ova produces a girl named Sil, who looks like a normal human but develops into a 12-year-old in three months.
Sil's violent outbursts during her sleep make the scientists consider her a threat. They try to kill her using cyanide gas, but instead she breaks out of her containment cell and escapes out into the world. The government assembles a team composed of anthropologist Dr. Steven 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.
While sleeping, Sil has another dream of an alien train running her down. When she wakes up, tentacles start emerging from underneath her skin and mass to form an organic cocoon around her.
While transforming within the cocoon, Sil kills a train warden before emerging as a blonde, twenty-something adult woman. Also, when Sil emerges she is naked, the reason for which is unknown. It can be assumed that the cocoon that enveloped her destroyed her clothes but it can also be assumed that she removed them during the process, though if the latter is correct it is unclear why. Sil waits in the train until it has arrived at Los Angeles. This makes tracking her extremely difficult. She is incredibly strong and intelligent with amazing regenerative powers. The scientists fear she may seduce someone to copulate with her in order to reproduce and any offspring could eventually exterminate mankind. Sil lacks inhibitions when it comes to harming or even killing people who get in her way and wants to reproduce as soon as possible.
She tries first to mate with a man she meets at a night club, but she rejects and kills him after sensing he is diabetic. She then tries to mate with a man she meets after a car accident, this is interrupted by Press and Laura. While attempting to keep him from alerting them, she rapidly transforms into her natural form (a bipedal, humanoid creature with silted pupils, no hair, dark/colored skin and a pair of flexible tentacles both of which she keeps stored inside one of her breasts and can retract at will) and attempts to restrain him with her tentacles, forcing one of the tentacles into his mouth to keep him from screaming; inadvertently killing him. Sil then flees into the forest without being seen by the team but does not have enough time to retrieve her clothes, forcing her to flee naked.
After cutting and dying her hair, she takes an attraction to Press. She eventually partially disrobes to seduce Arden. This succeeds and she and Arden remove the rest of their clothes before she copulates with him, becoming impregnated. Sil then quickly kills Arden when he realizes who she is and flees naked into the sewers where she gives birth to her son. The rest of the team follows her. Sil kills Fitch. Dan lights Sil's son on fire; the son then falls into the pool of oil, killing him. Enraged, Sil attacks Press but he shoots her into the burning pool, where she grabs onto Dan's leg. Press shoots Sil with his grenade launcher, instantly killing her. The last scene shows a rat chewing on one of Sil's severed tentacles; it mutates a long tongue and attacks another rat with it.
- Ben Kingsley as Xavier Fitch
- Forest Whitaker as Dan Smithson
- Natasha Henstridge as Sil
- Michael Madsen as Preston "Press" Lennox
- Alfred Molina as Dr. Stephen Arden
- Marg Helgenberger as Dr. Laura Baker
- Michelle Williams as Young Sil
- Frank Welker as Voice of Sil
- Whip Hubley as John F. Carey
- Kurtis Burow as Sil's Son
Dennis Feldman had the idea for Species in 1987, as he worked on another film about an alien invasion called"Real Men". Having read an article by Arthur C. Clarke about the insurmountable odds against an extraterrestrial craft ever locating and visiting Earth, given that stellar distances are great, and faster-than-light travel is unlikely, Feldman started to think that it was "unsophisticated for any alien culture to come here in what [he]'d describe as a big tin can". Thus in turn he considered that the possibility of extraterrestrial contact was through information. Then he detailed that a message would contain instructions from across the void to build something that would talk to men. Instead of a mechanical device, Feldman imagined wetware. The visitor would adapt to Earth's environment through DNA belonging to Earth's organisms. Mankind has sent to space transmissions "giving out directions" such as the Arecibo message, which Feldman considered unwary, as they relay information to potential predators from outer space. He pointed out that "in nature, one species would not want a predator to know where it hides".
Therefrom emerged a film treatment called The Message. The original script had more of a 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 search for the creature.Eventually Feldman came to believe this concept had some credibility issues, and instead changed the protagonists to a government team. After coining the name "Sil," Feldman initially thought of forming an acronym, but in the end chose only the three-letter name after learning about the codons of the genetic code, which can be represented in groups of three letters. Sil would originally emerge from a DNA sequence manipulating human DNA, and constantly mutate as she used the human junk DNA to access "all the defenses of the entire animal kingdom that [humans] evolved through – including ones that had never developed, plus ones [Earth's scientists] don't know about that have become extinct". 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 working on the Human Genome Project. The Message was offered to several studios, but was passed up.
In 1993, Feldman reworked his ideas into a spec script. This was sent to producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., who had hired Feldman to adapt Sidney Kirkpatrick's A Cast of Killers. The producer got attracted to the creative possibilities as the film offered "the challenge of walking that fine line between believability and pushing something as far as it can go". 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. 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. Feldman would remain as a co-producer. While the initial Species script suggested a love triangle between Sil and two government team members, the dissatisfaction of the crew eventually led to changes to the ending, which ended up featuring Sil having a baby that would immediately prove dangerous. The creature was created and designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger who also created the creatures in the Alien films.
Species received mixed however mainly negative reviews. It currently holds an approval rating of 40% at Rotten tomatoes based on 30 reviews (12 positive, 18 negative). Roger Ebert gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, criticizing the film's plot and overall lack of intelligence. 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." James Berardinelli gave the film 2 and a half out of 4 stars, stating "as long as you don't stop thinking about what's going on, Species is capable of offering its share of cheap thrills, with a laugh or two thrown in as well". Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly found the film lacking in imagination and special effects, also commenting that Alfred Molina "sports a haircut that's scarier than the creature. Variety's review of the film described it as a "gripping if not overly original account of an extraterrestrial species attempting to overwhelm our own" and that Ben Kingsley and other lead actors have only two-dimensional roles to engage them"; The review mentions the similarity between H.R. Giger's design of Sil and his work on Alien. Scott Weinberg of DVD Talk praised the acting, Feldman's screenplay and Donaldson's direction. He concluded by saying that Species makes for "a very good time for the genre fans". Mick LaSalle, writing for San Francisco Chronicle, was notedly less enthusiastic, quipping that if "Species were a little bit worse, it would have a shot at becoming a camp classic". Los Angeles Times critic Peter Rainer described Species as "a pretty good Boo! movie", finding it an entertaining thriller while unoriginal and with ineffective tonal shifts.