|Species III (Unrated Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 07 December 2004|
Following the theatrical releases “Species” (1995) and its sequel “Species 2,” the direct-to-video “Species III” marks a slight change in the evolution of the series. The previous two installments were horror with a science-fiction base, whereas the new installment is science-fiction with a few scares and a number of gross-outs. If you’re wondering what the difference is, the original was out to create dread, whereas “Species III” actually generates some modest character development, with the first suggestion that maybe the scientists dabbling with alien DNA aren’t complete idiots after all.
In the first film, a distant planet beamed a genetic sequence to Earth, which proved an irresistible recipe for disaster for a team of scientists who followed the instructions and wound up creating Syl (Natasha Henstridge, on board “Species III” in a very brief cameo). In no time at all, Syl grew from a tentacle-sprouting child into a being who looks much of the time like an incredibly beautiful woman, driven to reproduce with – and kill – any human males she deems appropriate. In “Species II,” a clone of the original Syl mated with an astronaut who became infected with alien DNA while in space. “Species III” opens with a dying Syl giving birth to a child, who is promptly appropriated and hidden away by Dr. Abbott (Robert Knepper), a university professor who is insatiably curious and uncommonly nonjudgmental. With the self-named Sarah growing to an adult (Sunny Mabrey) in a matter of days, Dr. Abbott needs a bit of help and enlists student Dean (Robin Dunne) to help him come up with a batch of eggs. It seems that Syl left behind a legacy of decaying half-breeds who want Sarah to mate with them and continue their line. Meanwhile, the half-breeds aren’t above some casual mayhem, and Sarah comes from a murderous line herself …
Ben Ripley’s screenplay goes in some unexpected directions, so that Sarah’s behavior is genuinely unpredictable – we really don’t know if she will be inquisitive or vicious in any given situation. This in turn makes Abbott and Dean seem more like actual scientists rather than stereotypical horror movie enablers. The sequences with the naked Sarah and an aggressive half-breed called Amelia fail to be scary (yeah, we know, they’re aliens, they may sprout tentacles and kill somebody, but still …), but they are undeniably scenic. The plot mechanics with the DNA and who is trying to breed what how and what the outcome may be remains frankly confusing despite the amount of dialogue devoted to the subject, but director Brad Turner keeps the plot moving along and the characters are likeably quirky, with a nicely dry turn from Knepper and a plausible performance as a dangerous innocent from the gorgeous Mabrey.
It is much to the credit of cinematographer Christian Sebaldt that one assumes “Species III” was shot on 35mm film until the commentary informs us that we’re looking at hi-def. The movie has a thoroughly filmlike appearance, with none of the pixilation that has plagued low-budget hi-def in the past, with vivid colors and great definition in dark scenes (including some pleasingly trippy effects shots of mating aliens). Sound is 5.1 but not discrete. There are some nice, subtle effects of background machinery in Chapter 6 and an effectively startling blast of music at a campus kegger in Chapter 13.
The audio commentary track with director Turner, writer Ripley and actor Dunne is friendly and informative, though the trio tend to fall silent occasionally (the soundtrack rises back to normal levels during these gaps). There are four making-of segments – “Evolution” on casting and pre-production, “Species DNA” on production design, with designer Cameron Birnie expounding on the desire to make the environments “uncomfortable” to look at – “Alien Technology,” which contrasts shots before and after the addition of CGI, and “Intelligent Lifeforms,” a decent segment on the creature design. A photo gallery is also included.
“Species III” doesn’t have the impact of the original, but in an odd way, it feels more cohesive – the characters are certainly more appealing. It emerges as a slight but agreeable and sexy SF diversion.