Species III: Unrated Edition Review
DVD is a wonderful creation. 10 years ago, a straight-to-video movie would have been shot down by critics everywhere, and usually, it was for good reason. After all, should we really invest our time in a picture that never made it to theatres, but would settle for the shelves of Blockbuster instead? Most of them are nothing more than dire failures, given rental status in the hope that a fast buck is made. But the careers of Gary Busey and Jeff Fahey are changing for the better - I see a light at the end of the tunnel for straight-to video stars everywhere. Recently, shiny disc has raged a war on the box office, with consumers blowing more cash on DVD’s than cinema tickets. Therefore, it’s entirely plausible that such a title would not only make a name for itself, but rake in the dough too. And speaking of money, Hollywood has always relied on the video realm for one thing...sequels. Name recognition can go a long way, so it’s often difficult for audiences to resist temptation when they see Tremors II leering at them from the rental shelf. Unfortunately, most of these films are mind-rottingly awful, and the latest chapter in the Species series does nothing to remove this stigma.
Technically, Species III isn’t a straight-to-video flick. It was originally produced for the ever-classy Sci-Fi Channel, and was broadcast in its cut form. Word of mouth was pretty bad, so it was wise for MGM to release the disc a week later, fully uncut and unrated. They anticipated that fans of the franchise would go crazy for a third film, especially when the gore and tits quotient was raised sufficiently. Still, such inclusions do nothing but pad out the run time, and even die-hard Species fans will feel a twang of disappointment when the credits roll. It’s a shame really, since I happened to enjoy Roger Donaldson’s original, as some readers will know. It took a derivative story and made it entertaining, thanks to a game cast and the beautiful Natasha Henstridge as alien goddess “Sil”. It was followed by the equally silly Species II, directed by Peter Medak; that was famed for its ludicrous kill scenes and bronzed super models. Naturally, the formula is exactly the same here, though directorial duties have slipped into the hands of unknown Brad Turner; who has a minuscule budget at his disposal. I think you’ll agree, that the chances of success were not good...
For those new to the franchise, the premise is fairly simple. Scientists on Earth picked up an extraterrestrial transmission, allowing the government to mix alien genetics with our own. This resulted in Sil, a young girl who proceeded to break out of her laboratory, and into the city, where she seduced the male populace in the hope of creating a new race. After being captured, further experiments were mounted, but were equally unsuccessful (duh!), with Sil ending up pregnant. Species III picks up right there, as the alien is rushed off to yet another shady compound. However, it’s too late - Sil gives birth, and dies during transit, leaving new-born Sara (Sunny Mabrey) to face the music. But before the authorities can reach the scene, Sara is taken away by fame-seeking scientist Dr. Abbott (Robert Knepper), a lecturer at a nearby university. Hiding the alien, he recruits his student Dean (Robin Dunne), and the pair try to uncover the true nature of their “subject”. Like her predecessors, Sara grows into womanhood over night, but strangely, doesn’t seek the opposite sex. Clearly, something sinister is afoot...
Taking his chance, Abbott decides to create an alien offspring, which doesn’t bode well (does it ever?) Unfortunately for the good doctor, the countryside is teaming with “hybrids” - the result of alien-human breeding. These creatures may look fine, but their genetic make-up is defective; allowing them to catch every infection imaginable. When one of them learns that Abbott is doing tests on their kind, a fight for survival ensues. However, the doctor is of no use, and targets Dean by reaching his room mate. The hybrid calls herself Amelia (Amelia Cooke), and just so happens to be drop-dead shaggable. Now, Dean has to keep Sara under lock and key, and stay one step-ahead of Amelia, who has a serious case of PMT. Will the human race survive?
I knew Species III would stink as soon as the opening credits drawed to a close. Henstridge’s appearance is restricted to a two-minute cameo, that merely fills in the gaps between films. To make matters worse, she doesn’t have any dialogue - a definite case of a contract agreement, rather than a desire to appear. In fact, after the film begins, Species III goes nowhere fast. Turner’s direction is non-existent, with little enthusiasm or purpose for the action on-screen. And it doesn’t help that the budgetary restraints are so blatant, with the digital photography making those wobbly sets pretty obvious. That said, a lack of resources would be bearable if the story was up to scratch, but sadly, it’s one of the weakest in recent memory; boasting all the density of a pancake. The script is muddled, with no clear narrative arc or purpose. After all, the whole hybrid plot makes little sense (it was a challenge to write the above synopsis), which makes one yearn for the simple body count story of the original.
The characters have no life either. Dunne and Knepper try very hard to keep the material interesting, but Ben Ripley’s incomprehensible script does them no favours. After all, are we really supposed to believe that Dunne’s college student is working on a controlled hydrogen fusion project? Such an undertaking would cost millions of dollars, and it’s highly doubtful that it would take place on college grounds. Plot points like this exist merely to aid the screenwriter - do you think Dean’s project will provide a nifty way of destroying Amelia? Of course it will! The audience is repeatedly asked to suspend their disbelief, making Species III a truly tepid affair. Throw in a whole host of glaring continuity errors, a languid pace, and a tedious tone, and you have the very definition of third-rate film-making.
That said, the movie succeeds in one area, and fans of the franchise will know exactly what it is. Species III is overflowing with gratuitous nudity, that just about nudges the film into the “so bad it’s good” stratosphere. At the very least, it’s worth a look for fans of the female form. Sunny Mabrey makes her film debut here, and spends most of it strutting about in the nude. Naturally, her perfect figure raises the film from mediocre to mildly interesting (I speak like a true man), yet her presence is missed when Turner attempts to further the plot (this shouldn’t be a flaw, but it bored me to tears.) Likewise, Amelia Cooke is a sight to behold, and the many shots of female flesh are staggering. Yep, this film would make a great drinking game. Unfortunately, the gore doesn’t quite cut the mustard. The bloody scenes lack any real impact, and the effects help to reveal the budget for what it is - peanuts. In fact, H.R. Giger’s creature design is reduced to unintentional laughter; with all the menace of a Dalek. Could this film get any worse?
Lets hope Species III fails to make a profit - there’s no reason to justify a fourth instalment, since the series has well and truly run its course. Dull, uninspired, and downright lazy, the film appeals only for its bevy of big-breasted girls (which might be a recommendation to some.) Heaven knows if MGM will release the film in the UK, but those with multi-region players should steer well clear. Spend your money on something else...
Despite the fact that Species III stinks like last months milk, MGM have decided to produce an above-average disc, which should appease the fans (whoever you might be.) That said, it's also a little disheartening - the superior Species II gets a barebones effort, while this monstrosity receives all the bells and whistles. It's a funny old world.
The Look and Sound
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), the transfer doesn't showcase the digital technology too well. After all, a film made and released in 2004 should look better than this. The image is sharp and clear, with good detail and colour, yet isn't overly impressive. The contrast is rather poor, with the transfer handling the many dark scenes in an uneven manner. The digital process doesn't bring out the striking palette of film, and with the crippling budget, Turner can't achieve the quality of Robert Rodriguez or George Lucas. Still, perhaps I'm being too picky. The picture is more than watchable, and it certainly bypasses many of the flaws associated with film-to-disc transfers. In other words, it's satisfactory.
As for sound, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is risible, but better than I expected. A film like this needs a lot of money spent on the sound design, which Species III doesn't get. This means that the surrounds are used sparingly, with most of the activity coming from the front speakers. Therefore, we get an audible mix, with clear dialogue, effects and music. It's far from a bad track, but doesn't possess the power of other 5.1 mixes. In fact, the film was probably more suited to a bog-standard 2.0 option. Still, MGM have tried hard, and Species III isn't likely to look or sound better.
Surprisingly, the film has several extras worth checking out...
Audio Commentary by director Brad Turner, writer Ben Ripley and actor Robin Dunne
This feature-length track is for devotees only. Very few interesting anecdotes are raised, and I'll warn you now that the group often fall into silence (probably marvelling over Mabrey.) Turner dicusses how he got the gig, the production itself, and following in the footsteps of previous filmmakers. Ripley is more concerned with the story, and tries his best to make the convoluted plot seem interesting. He fails miserably. Dunne on the other hand, has little to say, but offers his thoughts on shooting the movie, and the finished product. Hardly a must-listen, but competent.
There are four present, and they manage to hold the interest without being exceptional. "Evolution" is the first, and also the weakest. It's essentially a promotional piece (if memory serves, it appeared on the Species SE), and features brief interviews with cast and crew. They discuss the story, shooting on digital, and their hopes for the finished movie. "Species DNA" is better, focusing on the production design and look of the movie. Naturally, we get a good look at the sets. "Alien Technology" focuses on special effects work, and how the film mixed practical and computer FX. Finally, we have "Intelligent Lifeforms" (an unfortunate title), which takes a neat look at the creature designs.
The disc concludes with a "Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery", the film’s trailer, and a host of ads for other MGM titles.
Species III is a serious case of no-frills film-making, which manages to insult the audience with its lumbering stupidity. A shameless cash-in, its only saving grace is a lovely pair of, ummm...actresses, who will hopefully go onto bigger and better things. Best left at Blockbuster.