AN UNNATURAL HABITAT

For the world that Sil inhabits, from the controlled environment of the lab to the eclectic city of Los Angeles, the filmmakers went for a definite sense of realism.

Production designer John Muto found that the demands of the script, coupled with Roger Donaldson's vision of heightened reality, translated into complex sets and locations.

"Roger works out of the reality of the set," says Muto. "He is not a storyboard-based director in the sense that he likes to enter a set and breathe in the possibilities of moving the camera within that set. He didn't want the environment to feel slick or futuristic. We realized that this type of tense, action-filled story worked best against a backdrop of reality so that the fantastic elements stand out."

To underscore the realism of the story, as well as quicken the pace, Donaldson also incorporates a generous amount of camera movement. Working with cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, Donaldson used the moving camera to draw his audience into the story.

"I like the camera to move a lot," the director says. "With an active camera, I think you can make the audience feel like they are part of the action, rather than sitting back from it. In addition, the audience has become familiar with a moving camera; they expect the camera to take them where they want to be."

The set that posed the greatest challenges to Donaldson, Bartkowiak and Muto was the working sewer complex and a tar-filled granite cavern that is supposedly deep in the earth under Los Angeles' Biltmore Hotel. In fact, the maze-like structure was actually built on interior stages. "The sewer was tricky to construct for several reasons," recalls Muto. "Not only did we have to fill it with water, deep enough to dive into in some places, but the various wall sections had to break away to accommodate shooting. We created the illusion that roots were breaking through from trees above, which they do in real sewers. Obviously, ours needed to be wider and taller than real sewers, and real sewers don't come equipped with walkways, but the trick was to make it seem claustrophic and real."

Donaldson adds, "I wanted the sewer to feel like a labyrinth, where you don't know where you're going or what's around the next corner. The tension it creates is in the expectation--of not knowing what's about to happen, but that it's going to happen soon."

Muto explains that the enormous cavern, which the Team finds below the sewer, could not be constructed out of the normal set materials of foam and wood because of the fire danger. Instead, it was built out of structural steel, metal rod, plaster and concrete, which would withstand the intense fire of the final battle.

"The cavern is supposed to be a rift in the earth's crust that has filled with tar," Muto explains. "We couldn't to change the way it was built because of the fire danger involved. It was one hundred feet long by sixty feet wide and stretches to the roof of the soundstage. It was inspired by the La Brea Tar Pits, complete with an entry tunnel--just the sort of place in which a creature from another planet might feel at home." Some of the other design challenges included: building a full working nightclub, the Id Club, within the existing foyer of Hollywood's Pantages Theatre; finding a Victorian-era train station in Brigham City, Utah; and perfectly matching the vintage and elegant interiors of Los Angeles' famed Biltmore Hotel with new sets built on soundstages. One complicated sequence involved a high-speed car chase that ends in a fiery crash as helicopters strafe overhead. Most of that scene was filmed in the hills above Dodger Stadium near Elysian Park, which is adjacent to the railroad yards at Union Station.

In another of the film's most exciting sequences, the child Sil breaks out of her desert-based "cage" and escapes with super-human athletic abilities.

The escape scene was filmed on location in Utah near Salt Lake City. Several American desert communities were scouted by the filmmakers to find the appropriate facility coupled with the right natural surroundings. Finally, the Tooele Army Depot in northern Utah proved to be the ideal setting for the alien's nocturnal escape, replete with swooping helicopters, swarming soldiers and blinding searchlights.

The building used for the exterior once housed a gigantic motor repair facility for the entire nation's fleet of military vehicles. The interior set, housing Sil's glass-enclosed "cage," was built within the walls of the working Rockwell International Corporation in Seal Beach, California.

Filming was also accomplished in and around Los Angeles at Union Station, the Santa Monica Pier and the communities of Silver Lake, West Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades, Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills. Other exteriors were completed in Puerto Rico, the site of the Arecibo radio telescope, and northern Utah. Principal photography was finished on soundstages in Los Angeles.

Frank Mancuso, Jr. notes, "SPECIES will appeal to audiences as a collective experience, but I think each person will carry something different away with them. Some will see it as a film about alienation, others will view it as a warning about our own biological tampering, and some will remember most its action and suspense. But, it will undoubtedly register on many levels at once."

"When all is said and done," Roger Donaldson says, "SPECIES has all the elements of a great sci-fi thriller. It's scary, suspenseful and should be really entertaining."

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