To put it mildly, Luke Scott's sci-fi thriller MORGAN didn't exactly set the box office on fire over the holiday weekend, despite some unconventional
viral marketing tactics
. Where the story of a human hybrid experiment gone wrong did succeed, however, is in inspiring this Face-Off between films with similar set-ups, Roger Donaldson's 1995 film SPECIES
and Vincenzo Natali's SPLICE
from 2009. Let's see which of these sci-fi thrillers about experiments gone wrong has the most positive outcome.
When Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence receives a message from space that contains a new sequence of DNA and instructions on how to combine it with human DNA, scientists decide to go ahead and create the hybrid, making it female so it will be "more docile and controllable". What do they intend to do with this docile humalien? No idea. For smart people, they made dumb decisions and used questionable reasoning at every step, paving the way for their creation's eventual escape.
When their benefactors at Nucleic Exchange Research and Development balk at their idea of adding human DNA into their animal gene splicing experiments, a pair of scientists decide to go ahead with the plan on their own time. As unnerving and ill-advised as the idea of having a human/animal hybrid hanging around a lab is, they do have noble intentions going in, planning to search for cures and treatments for genetically influenced diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and cancer.
The result of the DNA splice is Sil, who ages from baby to full-grown woman in a matter of months. She usually appears to be an attractive human, but in more intense moments she can take on a monstrous alien appearance designed by H.R. Giger. Such moments also allow her to show off her enhanced speed, strength, and healing abilities. Sil is learning as she goes, picking up tips on how to make it through the world by observing people and watching TV. She seems nice, but you'll soon realize that she has an objective with frightening implications.
The female creature called Dren is a mixture of DNA from a variety of sources that aren't stated outright. She grows at an accelerated rate, has incredible speed and strength, sprouts wings, has triple-jointed legs, amphibious lungs, and a stinger tail. She always has the mentality of a child, but this only serves to make her more dangerous when she gets angry and throws a fit. She can overpower any human and kills things out of spite. You can sympathize with Dren, but she's ultimately too dangerous to be around. She's a creature that doesn't fit into this world.
DOCTORS AND ASSOCIATES
Xavier Fitch was head of the team that created Sil, and he seems to be both in awe and scared of her. He's mainly useful for dropping exposition, it's the search and destroy team he assembles who are more interesting: molecular biologist Laura Baker, anthropologist Stephen Arden, empath Dan Smithson, and mercenary Preston Lennox. They're smart, likeable people, but when it comes down to it their levels of education are irrelevant. These people are just here to either fall victim to Sil or take up arms against her.
Dren is created by Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, scientists in a long-term relationship. Clive wants to take things to the next level and start a family, but Elsa has severe mommy issues that make her reluctant. When Dren comes into her life, Elsa's dysfunctional maternal instincts kick in and she starts treating the creature (which has her DNA) like a daughter. Meanwhile Clive is disturbed that the experiment is going so far, but he can't stop Elsa and slowly comes to care for Dren as well. Maybe too much.
SEXUAL SIDE EFFECTS
Sil is on a mission to procreate. Sex is her entire purpose, and she scours Los Angeles for the perfect man to mate with. She's quite picky, any sign of impurity in a potential mate is enough for her to reject them, and if they don't take rejection well they end up on her body count. She's also very insistent - if a guy she chooses doesn't want to have sex with her, she'll kill him as well. SPECIES has a very simple structure: the team of experts search for Sil while she tries to mate. Repeat, repeat.
You can't talk about SPLICE without talking about its sex scenes. Sex is not the primary focus like it was in SPECIES, but it certainly comes up. The first instance is initiated by a sexually mature female Dren, who seduces Clive - and he goes for it. Wings and a stinger tail aren't a turn-off for him, even if he helped raise this creature from infancy. The second instance is even more disturbing. Dren eventually mutates into a male form and ends up raping Elsa. There is nothing good about the sex in this movie.
It's tough to say that this experiment was a failure, because the doctors involved had no idea what to expect. The result they get is total mayhem. A trail of dead bodies, property destruction, explosions, and a climactic battle that takes the characters through the L.A. sewer and into an oil-filled chasm that opened up in an earthquake. Nothing useful comes from this endeavor, the only knowledge gained is that there is alien life out there and if we mix our DNA with its DNA that will be the end of the human race.
There is a specific objective behind the scientific pursuits in this film, and as such it is clear that this experiment was a major failure. Clive and Elsa do not accomplish the research and breakthroughs they had in mind when they embarked on creating Dren. Instead of cures for diseases, the results they find are nightmarish scenarios, crumbling relationships, multiple murders, and an interspecies rape. There is hope that the research could still be done on another creature after the events of this film, but that comes at a terrible price.
SPECIES and SPLICE take different approaches to their shared concepts. One is a fast paced action thriller, the other is a character study that delivers psychological thrills. Within these categories exploring their similarities, the fight was a close one, but in the end SPLICE comes out on top. While SPECIES is very entertaining, I find SPLICE to be a better film overall.
Do you agree, or do you think Sil should have wiped the floor with Dren? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. Have you seen MORGAN? If so, I'd be interested in hearing how you think it measures up against these two.
I'm also interested in hearing suggestions for future Face-Off articles. If you have any ideas for match-ups, you can send them to me at CodyHamman@joblo.com.