Panavision - 2.35:1
2.44:1 - 16:9 - 1.37:1
Written by: Dennis Feldman
Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger, Natasha Henstridge, Michelle Williams
As I'm sure happens to everyone at some point or another, you miss seeing a film in the theatre for one reason or another. Since there are so many films to see out there, especially here in Los Angeles, that happen to my wife and I more often than not, since lots of films seem to disappear just when we want to go see them. Species was one of those films. We finally got around to seeing Species for the first time when a friend at work lent me an advanced videotaped copied she had received (pan & scan, of course). The film was hokey but a lot of fun just the same, but we found that some scenes just didn't seem to make much sense...we figured that the script was just a little lacking. Anyway, having viewed the letterboxed version on MGM/UA's new Species DVD release, we were please to find out that the problems we saw were almost entirely due to the horrible panning & scanning, not the script...but more on that later.
For those of you who haven't seen Species, it's basically another one of the multitude of Alien remakes you've seen or heard of over the past twenty years. The good thing is that Species is a pretty tasty genre film and stands above most of the rest of them, thanks to its cast, the terrific CGI special effects from Boss Films, and the amazing creature herself ("Sil"), designed by Alien alumni H.R. Giger - not to mention major studio backing and an approx. $35,000,000 budget to boot. Oh, and I should probably mention that many people also enjoy the film solely because co-star Natasha Henstridge spends much of the film taking her clothes off (you know who you are!). The plot of Species revolves around a young girl, Sil (Michelle Williams), who escapes from a top-secret government laboratory. Turns out that Sil is not the human she seems to be, but is actually the result of a genetically-engineered experiment combining human and alien DNA. Where did the alien DNA come from you might ask? Well, after years of sending messages into space, the SETI Project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) finally gets a response, and part of that response included instructions on recreating the aliens' DNA sample and introducing in to human cells. Anyway, Sil escapes and it's up to head scientist Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) to find and destroy his creation, so he assembles a small team of various "experts" (Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger) to help find and destroy her. But their troubles are only beginning, since young Sil suddenly metamorphosizes into a fully-grown woman/creature (Henstridge) whose only desire is to find a compatible mate and breed, breed, breed...
MGM/UA's Home Video's DVD release of Species is a single-sided, dual-layer disc, which means that both the letterboxed and standard versions of the film are presented on one side of the disc. (By the way, an easy way to tell that a disc is dual-layered is that single-layered discs are silver, the dual-layered discs are tinted/colored gold. Just thought you'd want to know). When you place the disc into your player, you are presented with a menu asking which version you want to view, and a simple click of your remote takes you there. (If you don't select anything, the letterboxed version will automatically be selected after about ten seconds and start playing). Unfortunately, if you later want to switch from one version to the other, you will have to literally "eject" the disc from the player, and then hit "play" again to load the disc and bring up the initial menu.
Species was filmed in anamorphic Panavision and was presented theatrically with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The letterboxed version clocks in at about 2.44:1 (and is enhanced for 16:9 widescreen TVs), and the standard version is a truly cropped pan & scan version. The letterboxed version is in excellent condition, with a very clean and very sharp picture. Although I thought the color was a tiny bit subdued (I believe this is part of the original photography) and that the image could have just be the tiniest bit sharper in detail, there really is nothing there to complain about. But I really do have to suggest that you watch Species letterboxed. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the film's storyline had some problems that we discovered were due to the panning & scanning...the film image is SO blown up, that all the compositions are completely ruined - two-shots become single shots, single shots become extreme closeups, etc. Anyway, there are quite a few segments of the film that deal with Sil having nightmares about her true alien identity - in the pan & scan version, these nightmares make absolutely no sense; in the letterboxed version, everything becomes clear. The pan & scan version is good for one thing only - to get better close-up views of the creature and the effects (and let's not forget Henstridge, of course). Also, for an "expanded size" pan & scan copy, the picture was extremely good, with only the very slightest hint of some grain (and although it's supposed to be a pan & scan copy, the opening and closing credits are letterboxed). I also noticed my first artifact that was definitely an artifact - when Michael Madsen is hunting around someone's backyard looking for Sil (00:57:46 - 00:57:53), he pauses for several seconds in front of some non-moving, out-of-focus, green bushes. During that time, the green background is frozen, then suddenly shifts slightly, then freezes, then shifts again, etc. Very weird, but definitely an artifact. It is also more noticeable on the letterboxed version than the pan & scan version, since the letterboxed version has nearly 50% more picture information present. It goes by fairly quickly, and most viewers probably won't even notice it. Considering the quality of the rest of the transfer, it's really just a quick, minor annoyance, and I really didn't think it was that big of a deal (but heaven help us if someday this sort of thing happens continually throughout a transfer, just you wait and hear me bitch about it...)
There are three separate soundtrack for Species: a 6-channel English- and French-language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, and a standard 2-channel Dolby Surround Spanish-language one. The sound mix is absolutely super, and the reproduction is excellent. I actually didn't notice any real difference between the two regular Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and the Spanish 2-channel track, they were that good. The French- and Spanish-language dialogue is more than fine, but you should be aware that the dubbing is often on a different level than the original English (sometimes is a little loud, sometime it has a little echo - such as dubbed tracks). However, I should mention that it was also slightly hard to compare all three tracks - unlike titles from other companies, MGM/UA has programmed their discs in such a way that you can only change languages by going through several menu setting options - you can't change it on the fly with the audio button on your remote. This is incredibly annoying, and I hope they change their programming to use the audio button function soon!
In addition to encoding their DVD titles with standard English, French and Spanish subtitles, MGM/UA also thoughtfully include descriptive subtitles for the hearing impaired in all three languages. The standard subtitles are all fantastic and contain almost no paraphrasing, and the French and Spanish also translate all onscreen text. The descriptive closed-captioning is exactly the same, only contains written audio descriptions at various moments (like "guards are coughing"). The six subtitling / descriptive tracks can be changed either with the "subtitle" button on your remote or through the menu options. Additionally, Species is encoded with standard closed-captioning that can be viewed with a decoder.
As you may have already guessed, identical interactive menus appear for both versions of Species, with options for playing the movie or accessing the chapter list, language selections (captions & subtitles) or the theatrical trailer. The chapter list contains small pictures and descriptions for all 37 chapters, which are spread over 10 pages/frames (4 chapter listings per frame/page). The theatrical trailer runs 1m55s and has been letterboxed at about 1.72:1 (there is no cropped version) - although it is in good condition, the print is a little dark and nowhere near as sharp as the actual film transfer. The soundtrack for the trailer is surround stereo encoded, and is presented only in English with no subtitles.
Species is encoded for Region 1 players only (U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada), and is packaged in MGM/UA's usual plastic and cardboard "keep case." The inside flap contains a full listing of all 37 chapters.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 05/07/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97