July 7, 2020 Species – 25 Years On The Extraterrestrial Hunt
The summer of 1995 was a scorcher, at least, at the box office. June’s top films were an eclectic menagerie of friendly ghosts (Casper), best-selling fiction turned to film (Congo), unstoppable superheroes (Batman Forever), and Disney (Pocahontas), but July would belong almost entirely to the real-life drama-in-space, Apollo 13. Alas, a little Sci-Fi movie called Species was not fated to earn the top spot, but it was still content to search for virile victims when it arrived on Friday, July 7th, 1995.
Oh, Natasha Henstridge, you know how to make a debut! Starring as the seductive extraterrestrial-human hybrid Sil, the gorgeous and talented Henstridge (The Whole Nine Yards 2000, Diggstown series) led a strong cast that featured Gandhi, err, Ben Kingsley (Gandhi 1982, Iron Man 3 2013), Michael Madsen (Kill Bill: Vol. 1 2003, The Hateful Eight 2015), Alfred Molina (Frida 2002, Spider-Man 2 2004), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland 2006, Black Panther 2018), and definitely not least, Marg Helgenberger (Erin Brockovich 2000, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series). The story was simple: a group of scientists and government agents are brought together to track down a horny alien hybrid before she can mate with a human male. Have you ever tried getting a bunch of men to turn down free sex?
Whether you loved or loathed the film’s premise, it was hard for Sci-Fi fans to deny a film that offered up more of H.R. Giger’s exceptional talents. Oh, you didn’t realize why Sil’s extraterrestrial elements appeared eerily familiar? Well, that was thanks to the Swiss artist, a virtuoso known for his work on the Alien franchise. Known for his amalgamation of the human body and machinery into dark, biomechanical fantasies, Giger would go on to win the Academy Award for Visual Design thanks to 1979’s Alien.
By all accounts he was the perfect man for the job, and the project challenged Giger to create a unique creature that melded the sensuality and deadliness found in many of his drawings. Meanwhile, it was certainly a feather in Species’ cap to have him aboard, as he provided valuable expertise—and even contributed $100,000 of his own money to support his ideas. Giger refused to accept mediocrity, and he continually challenged the film’s creators. Ultimately, unhappy with a multitude of issues throughout the screenplay, he would leave his indelible mark when he became responsible for a shift in the film’s ending.
Originally conceived by Dennis Feldman (The Golden Child 1986, Species II 1998) as a police procedural film treatment, featuring a “bathtub geneticist,” Species would take on a life of its own with the re-write that got the film made. Combining research obtained from scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and Human Genome Project, along with some nods to the Arecibo Observatory, Feldman drafted a tale that, while fictitious, felt believable, a Sci-Fi story that challenged what we might be capable of in the not so distant future. Like all of the best Sci-Fi tales, he was drafting fiction while opening the doors to possibility.
Directed by Roger Donaldson (Cocktail 1988, The World’s Fastest Indian 2005), the film would go on to star an impressive cast who allowed some of those original elements to shine through. In fact, Species was different from many other Sci-Fi flicks due to its equal emphasis on the team doing the hunting, as well as the sexy alien being hunted. It was definitely not a sophisticated, mind-bending plot, sure, but Feldman and Donaldson worked together to deliver viewers something that was at least worth the price of admission.
Interestingly enough, one of Michelle Williams’ (Blue Valentine 2010, Manchester By the Sea 2016) first film roles was in Species, portraying Young Sil. Had the actress not gone on to become the A-list caliber star that she is, this might not be worth noting. All things considered, it’s an intriguing if pointless little tidbit of trivia that you might have missed. (Oh yeah, and, reportedly, Williams is not a fan of the film.)
Despite its mixed reviews, when it debuted on July 7th, 1995, Species was considered a box office success, as it grossed the equivalent of $190 million in today’s economy. Some have balked that this was largely due to Henstridge’s topless scenes, while others accused the film of too much ambition, offering the opinion that it did not succeed at what it set out to do. Whatever the case, there was enough fandemonium to inspire the creation of a theatrical sequel, 1998’s Species II, as well as two direct-to-TV sequels aired on Syfy—2004’s Species III and 2007’s Species – The Awakening. Additionally, the original story was adapted into a 1995 mass market paperback novel by Yvonne Navarro, and Feldman would go on to publish a comic book series with Dark Horse Comics based on the film.
Novels, comic books, and sequels are all par for the course. Does a Science Fiction film truly succeed at its purpose when it inspires real-life sightings of cryptid beasts? Well, oddly, some believe that Species is the influence behind the urban legend of the chupacabra. Paranormal investigator Benjamin Radford traced the legend in detail throughout his book, Tracking the Chupacabra, and provided a link between the film’s release and sightings of the reptilian-like creature in Puerto Rico and beyond. Whether you buy into this theory or not, it’s interesting to note that the second documented chupacabra sighting was in August 1995.
Has Species irrevocably impacted the world as we know it, giving birth to a beast that travels the Americas looking for victims? More than likely not, but it’s still an amusing idea born from an equally entertaining film. Sure, it’s not, as they say, rocket science—Madsen has even referred to it as “lousy”—but Species has a certain appeal that holds its viewer’s attention throughout its runtime. Maybe it’s the lovely Miss Henstridge, who provides a hauntingly alluring performance in the film—and we do not simply mean her beautiful face. (The woman can act!) Or maybe it’s the stellar ensemble cast or the talents of the world-renowned Giger, but whatever it is, it works. Even twenty-five years later!