Species


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Details At A Glance

General
Extras
Category Science Fiction Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 2
Species - 2.35:1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Species II - 1.78:1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1995 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 103:52 Minutes  Other Extras Booklet
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Roger Donaldson
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Ben Kingsley
Michael Madsen
Alfred Molina
Forest Whitaker
Marg Helenberger
Natasha Henstridge
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Christopher Young
 
 
Video
Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Miscellaneous
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    H.R. Giger is arguably the finest surreal horror painter in the world today, and his work has been used with varying degrees of success in various films, including the Alien series. Giger himself has been quoted as being less than happy with the way a lot of his ideas have been implemented in film, but Species is one where the basic premise of his work has been followed reasonably. In case you aren't sure what that premise is, it is really a simple bonding of human biology, specifically sexual biology, and machinery. This bonding is apparent to varying degrees in his work, and this is one film where this premise has been fully exploited. In case you are curious, the plot runs something like this: at one point, the SETI program sent out a message into space containing such useless information about the Earth as its population. In the late 1970s, they received a reply consisting of two sets of instructions. The first was a series of instructions for producing a new, efficient form of methane gas that had the potential to solve all of the world's energy problems at a stroke. The other was a string of DNA information, combined with explicit instructions on how to combine it with human DNA. Needless to say, the American government chose to follow the latter recipe, with seven of the cells produced under this arrangement making it to the division stage. Four of these treated cells died, two of them were frozen for later use, and the last was allowed to reach the full stage of development (i.e. birth). This is the first major plot hole in the film: how would they have managed to find a female volunteer willing to carry a child to term for the purposes of this experiment? (And please don't email me with stories about artificial incubation, because I may not know much about medicine except how to perform minor surgery on myself, but I do know that it is currently impossible to recreate the conditions found in the uterus.)

    The result of the experiment, code named Sil, grew so fast and displayed such strange behaviour that the head of the project, Fitch (Ben Kingsley), decided to terminate her. Needless to say, young Sil (Michelle Williams) was less than happy about this, and decided to escape from the facility. The way she does this with such seeming ease is another major plot hole, but this one is critical to the story, so I'll let that one slide. What is somewhat important to understand is that as the human half of Sil grows, so to does the alien half, and there are three well-defined stages in her life cycle. The first stage is one in which she appears in the aforementioned form of a pre-pubescent girl. The second stage is one where she appears as an adult female human being. The third stage of Sil's life cycle involves seeing her in her true, alien physical form, which is also where we get to see H.R. Giger's designs at work. A rather oddball team is assembled to track Sil down and destroy her, consisting of a general government-employed killer named Press (Michael Madsen), a genetic scientist named Laura (Marg Helgenberger), a sociological scientist named Arden (Alfred Molina), and an empath named Dan (Forest Whitaker). Said empath is the most irritating plot hole in this film, as he is a major plot device used to move the story around in leaps and bounds. Anyway, Sil manages to find her way onto a passenger train and, while there, she develops into an adult form (Natasha Henstridge). Personally, I felt that this film was lifted out of the realm of the ordinary B-grade science fiction flick by the use of sequences from Sil's perspective. I really felt for her in some of the sequences where we learn of her intrinsic desire to find the best possible mate and have him pass his genetic material on to her for processing. Fitch explains during an early point in the film that he and his fellow scientists chose to create a female hybrid in the belief that she would be easier to control. This shows a blatant disregard for what most scientists would know about reproduction in most animals, in that the female in most species tends to be larger, and that a male would be unable to reproduce on its own. Of course, cross-breeding between species is also scientifically impossible, even with a female that is a synthesis of two species. If you are a fan of Giger's artwork, then this film is worth watching to see a film in which the special effects teams were actually co-operating with him (at least according to the enclosed booklet). The plot is a load of bollocks, and the acting sometimes leaves a fair amount to be desired, but this is definitely more entertaining than most of the B-grade science fiction flicks that Giger's work has been mauled in order to create, particularly ones like Alien3.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Before I begin, I should point out that the copy I am reviewing here is one that was pressed by Warner Home Video, but unless Fox take the original negatives and remaster the DVD, most of what I have to say here should still apply. Contrary to what the packaging states, the transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement. The packaging states that this is a 1.85:1 transfer, but have no illusions: this was a film shot with a widescreen ratio in mind. The transfer is variably sharp, with the sequences establishing and moving the plot being perfectly clear at all times, and the sequences depicting Sil's dreams being deliberately blurred and hazy. The details of these sequences are as easy to make out as was intended, so there is no major loss in this department. Shadow detail was as good as the original film stock allowed, and there was no low-level noise apparent. The colour saturation was perfectly accurate, with the only noted exception being the slight brightness apparent in Sil when her alien half begins to take over, which is more an artefact of the CGI rendering.

    I am pleased to report that MPEG artefacts were absent from the transfer, in spite of there being nearly one hundred and ten minutes of video information on a single layer. The transfer rate of this DVD is wildly variant from around four to eight Mb/s, which would account for some of the problems apparent in the transfer. Speaking of which, film-to-video artefacts were a significant problem with this transfer, with frequent, mild-to-moderate aliasing and moiré effects apparent. While this problem was not as bad as it was in The Thing, it does approach that sort of annoyance. Some telecine wobble is apparent in the opening credits, but this settles down once the film actually begins. Film artefacts were very rare once the opening credits were finished, with only the occasional black spot appearing on a few frames scattered around the film.

Audio

    There is only one audio soundtrack on this DVD, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that would appear to have been a remix from Dolby Digital 2.0 or something in that class. It would have been nice if there had been a dub in Spanish or German, but this would have pushed the compression even harder than it already has been, which would really not be acceptable. The dialogue was clear and easy to understand, with the exception of a few mostly unimportant sentences that were blurred by a high amount of ambient noise. This, however, is more the fault of the way the film was originally recorded than the DVD transfer, as I remember it being a problem in the VHS version as well as the theatrical exhibition, although the latter case assessment is based on a report from a friend. Audio sync was never a problem, except for the dubbed in growls of the CGI monsters, which seemed to be very slightly out of sync with their movements. This is more likely a problem with the CGI than the transfer, as this film was only out about eighteen to twenty-four months after Alien3's abominably bad CGI. The only other complaint to be made about the audio transfer is that there are some mild and brief bursts of static during the opening credits, but these settle down once the film gets going, and the audio soon becomes quite reasonable from then on.

    The score music by Christopher Young is nothing to get excited about, which can be explained by the lack of a real connection to the events of the film, or its characters. In basic terms, this was a garden-variety summer action film score adapted for use with a garden-variety summer science-fiction film, if you get my meaning. The sequence depicting Sil's nightmare of a skull-adorned train racing forward through the night is the only moment in the film that is properly accentuated by the score. How else can I say that this is a completely unremarkable film score that is almost entirely bereft of redeeming features? Oh yeah, one last way: this score music entirely failed to inject any tension into the climactic battle with Sil, which is completely unforgivable in spite of how poorly written the ending sequence really appeared to be.

    The surround channels were used for the music, ambience, and for the many special effects that dominate this film, leaving us with a moderately enveloping sound field that almost succeeds in pulling the viewer into the picture in spite of the plot holes and devices. The subwoofer was used to give an extra punch to the few action scenes and the music, and it did this quite well.

Extras

Menu

    The menu is plain, featureless, and it appears to be 4:3. On the good side, the scene selection menu is very comprehensive.

Theatrical Trailer - Species

    This trailer is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround sound, and 16x9 enhancement. Overall, this is a well-presented trailer that manages to stir the viewer's curiosity, assuming they are a fan of Aliens.

Theatrical Trailer - Species II

    This trailer is in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround sound, and 16x9 enhancement. This trailer is like the film it advertises, in that it looks like a cheap and nasty hack job of the original. I wouldn't bother with Species II, and this trailer makes the reasons fairly clear.

Booklet

    This is an eight-page booklet describing the processes that went into the making of Species. Most of it makes for reasonably interesting reading.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     The theatrical trailer included on the Region 1 version of this disc is also reportedly framed at the wrong ratio (1.78:1 instead of 2.35:1). However, the Region 1 version appears to have been afforded better video quality by the use of RSDL formatting. Given how hideous the aliasing is in this picture in spite of the 16x9 enhancement, I would have to say that the Region 1 version would be a better choice.

Summary

    Species is a far better successor to Aliens than the other two episodes in the series, but that isn't saying much.

    The video quality is only just acceptable if you enjoyed the film.

    The audio quality is nothing special, but good enough.

    The extras are very basic.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall
© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
April 8, 2000 
Review Equipment
   
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer