Tuesday, June 4, 2013

TUESDAY BONUS: Never a Contender

Last month I ran down a whole long 200+ list of movies I’ve seen in my life which are not officially counted among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and I acknowledged that for the most part that was simply appropriate curation as they were by and large disposable entertainments I enjoyed (or watched repeatedly on cable due to lack of other entertainment options) as a kid. But then I did highlight and recommend ten of my movies for potential consideration as Must-See. Before I leave the subject altogether (as much as I ever leave anything beyond the reach of later reference) I wanted to spend a moment at the opposite end of the list-in-quality-order, and dutifully warn people away from what is probably the worst movie in my personal view-ography, the utter and complete opposite of a Must-See. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you … Species 2.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the original Species is not exactly high art but it’s not what I would call a terrible movie. It has a plot that makes a certain amount of logical sense (especially grading on the curve of sci-fi horror flicks) and it is not shy about indulging in the guilty pleasures of its genre. It tries to grapple with some interesting ideas about scientific hubris as well as sexual politics and gender dynamics and so on, although I will readily admit that some of these areas become problematic (e.g., if a woman lures a man in with the promise of casual sex but is secretly trying to get pregnant, it will literally be the end of the world), but one might be inclined to award points for effort regardless of outcome. It’s a fun timewaster, basically, and clearly I don’t have any real problem with those.

Species 2, on the other hand, is pretty much dreck. It basically recycles the entire plot of the first film (as sequels sadly, predictably and often do) with the big twist being a gender flip: instead of a lone female-alien hybrid trying to breed with a human male so that she can produce thousands of eggs that will overrun our planet when they hatch, now a male-alien hybrid is trying to spawn thousands of his own offspring. Somehow this is much, much worse in terms of the sexual politics, as the hybrid goes around seducing Earthling women and impregnating them, only to have the babies gestate incredibly rapidly and claw their way out, killing the mothers in the process. Once again a team of scientists has to track down and stop the hybrid, only this time (a la Terminator 2) they are joined by a clone of the original villainess from the first movie, who is now on the side of the angels! At least until her biological imperative leads her to betray the team and try to mate with the male-hybrid. Ugh.

You might suspect that I saw Species 2 because it is a sequel and I am a completist. Usually that would be a good guess, but inapplicable in this case. Species 2 was in the theaters for probably all of about eight days, and by then it would have gotten such terrible reviews (seriously, it has like a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes) that any sane person would never have gone looking for it on VHS (aww yeah, late ‘90’s!) But I did in fact pay good money to see Species 2 during its brief theatrical run, probably in fact on opening night. And I did this in the name of friendship.

For you see a buddy of mine worked as a production assistant on Species 2, because they filmed a great deal of it near where we lived, just across the river in Maryland. He had aspirations of being a director at the time and he thought some experience working on a major studio production would be valuable. He did get quite a bit out of it, but when I talked to him about it afterwards he informed me that it’s not as though you start out as a PA and work your way up until they start giving you films of your own to direct; you really have to go out and make something on your own and use that to get a studio to hire you for their next project. My friend ended up not pursuing the Hollywood dream much further, although I don’t lay the blame for that on Species 2. He had a good time working on it and met some cool people, and he had no more idea than the rest of us what the finished product would end up looking like. (Crap.) We were more than happy to support him by buying tickets to the flick. And we were more than happy to give him grief for a while about what a waste of time and money that turned out to be.

If you are of a certain bent, deeply into pop culture and even remotely curious about how it’s created, and you surround yourself with friends of similar dispositions, then sooner or later you’re going to have those kind of stories to tell, about one time when you got to be an extra in the background of a movie scene, or someone you know met someone ridiculously famous, or any other variation on the brush-with-awesome formula. So that’s mine. I knew a guy who worked on the execrable sequel to a so-so-to-begin-with monstersploitation movie. When production had wrapped, he invited me to tour some of the sets with him, and I took him up on it, so when we were sitting in the theater months later I could say to myself during the climax “Ah, I’ve been inside that fake barn.” And we stole one of the props from the alien cloning lab, an official looking Break Glass In Case of Fire extinguisher case, which we hung on the wall near our bar in the townhouse we were renting at the time. Instead of a fire extinguisher, we stored a bottle of vodka in it. So when I think about all the movies I’ve seen in my life, Species 2 has a way of pushing to the forefront of my consciousness. Because I am a sentimental goob.

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