Loving the Alien

Species mixes sex, sci-fi and screams for some silly fun

Granted, Henstridge's creature can't match the seething, repressed sexuality of Simone Simon as the feline changeling of Val Lewton's Cat People, and Sil's progeny, who merely slurp rats, will not give you the deep-down Freudian willies inspired by Nola's vengeful offspring in David Cronenberg's The Brood, but Sil is still a blood relative of the Alien alien, albeit a poor relation. Sil in her monster form -- her slimy tubes and prickly spines -- was designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, the man responsible for Alien's look. The Species effects, though, aren't up to the Oscar-winning Alien's standards.

When Sil's inner child, a thing from another planet, comes bursting out through her skin, the whole hydraulic and corn syrup spectacle is pretty cool -- it's at least as ookie a transformation as David Naughton's becoming a werewolf in An American Werewolf in London. Sil's nightmares, the dreams in which she says, "Tell me who I am, inside," are not quite so cool, especially for an audiences jaded by the regular slimings of Family Double Dare. While Sil thrashes in her sleep, dreaming, we see murky drawings of two typical Giger figures thrusting in each others claws, their movements as jerky as those of marionettes. In truth, these dim gray figures aren't as evocative of desire and threat, and certainly not as charming, as the string-haired rag doll William Shatner saw bobbling outside his spaceship window on an ancient episode of Outer Limits.

On the subject of that doll, and that episode, the one where a pre-Star Trek captain goes to Venus, note that the earthman is infected with an alien strain in his blood. They have co-mingled, somehow. Later, of course, Shatner became Captain Kirk and went on a long road trip through space, picking up and snuggling down with every humanoid female he met. Clearly, this frottage with space creatures theme has a deep resonance in our culture. The whole SETI program, in fact, could be seen as a intergalactic chat-line. And didn't we send pictures of naked people outside of our solar system? Yes, we did; even now, line drawings of Adam and Eve, etched on a plaque, are drifting through the galaxy. This art work might not have been designed to appeal to the prurient interests of whoever might be out there, but, still, the faces on the man and woman are sweet and silly, and reminders that despite the accomplishments of our species -- fire, the wheel, Tang -- much of what we do is goofy.

Of the two space flicks now out, Apollo 13 is the thrilling tribute to our most noble aspirations. But Species is a happily sleazy, freewheeling reminder that, even as we learn the secrets of the universe, we'll still be human.

Species. Directed byRoger Donaldson. With Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger.

Rated R.
108 minutes.

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