SUB-GENRES: Horror / Thriller / Drama
DIRECTED BY: Philip Kaufman
WRITTEN BY: W.D. Richter (screenplay); Based on a novel by Jack Finney
PEW PEW: While not an action flick, this version of Finney’s Body Snatchers features pulse-pounding suspense and engaging mystery. It’s riveting even in its quietest moments.
CAT FOOD: This film’s concept accepts a broader application beyond that of political conformity. There is much to think about and discuss after viewing this masterpiece.
Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers and its concept left an indelible mark on me and, as such, the adaptations of the unique story always fascinate me. I believe that Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its subsequent remakes, however terrible some of them were, are staples of science fiction film. For my next several reviews, I plan to take you through all five of the takes on Finney’s idea.
It’s hard not to have this, the second adaptation of Finney’s novel, outrank the first. By all logic, it really should trump the 1956 original, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for the classics, and for a (relatively) happy ending. Nevertheless, the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is another one of my favourite sci-fi films, losing out to its 1956 predecessor by only a nose hair.
Although it’s slower and broodier than the original film, this one draws you in just as fast with an intriguing introduction and a fascinatingly busy atmosphere. This movie was made to present more of a drab and numb metropolitan vibe reflective of its era. Enjoy what passes for serenity while it’s there, this picture will make you yearn for it by the end. This thing is creepy as hell.
Instead of Dr. Miles Bennell, we now have Matthew Bennell, who works for the health department in San Francisco. When his co-worker Elizabeth Driscoll notices strange new flowers that are growing off of other plants all over the city, the discovery coincides with a drastic change in her boyfriend’s behaviour. It seems he’s become a bit of an emotional, erm, vegetable. Soon, Bennell and Driscoll begin to notice this same behaviour in other people throughout the city.
Only a little differently than the last film, we find out that spores drifting through space have landed in the city, gradually creating pods that plan on replicating the human population. When you sleep, the new body absorbs your thoughts and memories and eventually replaces you, disintegrating the old body in the process. The resulting replacement is identical in every way, except that it no longer expresses emotion.
Naturally, Bennell, Driscoll, and their two friends find themselves outnumbered in a desperate attempt to escape the city and warn the outside world that the pod people plan to spread the invasion across the nation and beyond.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers functions a lot like the 1988 remake of The Blob (another film that I talked about on this web site) as it follows the plot of its original from the same ‘respectable safe distance.’ In other words, it does its own thing while using the original framework. Consequently, several of the scenes, including the more memorable ones, are recreated on 1978 terms, and it’s chillingly effective to say the least. There are many improvements, many of which are superficial, but some really do address the very few problems I had with the original. First and foremost, I’d like to compliment this film on at least somewhat fleshing out what happens to the original body after it has been replicated. It always bugged me about the original film that they never ever explained that.
This time round, almost the entire cast is brilliant. While Donald Sutherland doesn’t quite give off the same vibe as Kevin McCarthy, he’s legendary in his own right and makes the role his own. It’s a different role, so I absolutely will not compare him to McCarthy beyond what I’ve already done. I loved the beautiful Brooke Adams in her utterly convincing portrayal of Driscoll. The imcomparable Jeff Goldblum is one of one of my all-time favourites and he delivers a typically great performance as a frustrated artist. His other half in the film is played by Veronica Cartwright, who is easily as convincing as Adams. And of course, Leonard Nimoy is the only logical choice to play the subversive alien psychiatrist.
I’d also like to point out that the great Kevin McCarthy does appear in a cameo as a dude who runs into Bennell’s car going on exactly like he did during the climactic highway scene in the 1956 original. It’s a nice touch that passes the torch to a new era.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a much larger scope this time round, but it also features a closer attention to detail. We’re in the big city with tons more alien pod people, who actually shriek horrifically when confronted by us normies. Both the hatching of the pod people and the pods themselves are infinitely better looking, even though they were by no means terrible in the original. The great strides made in practical effects in the twenty years between pictures really shows in this one.
But just because the scope is bigger, doesn’t mean this film isn’t four times as fucking claustrophobic as the original. The sparing but bizarre and oddly intense score, the oppressive chiaroscuro created by expert lighting, and selectively used shaky cam techniques combine to create a disorienting panic and paranoia that closes in on the characters, and on us. The film is mercilessly suspenseful and brilliantly artistic all at the same time.
The ending is a serious and iconic shocker, so I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s also a big reason as to why this one doesn’t rank as high in my heart as the original does. Aside from that, this Invasion of the Body Snatchers is seriously one of the greatest films of all time, and if not that, it’s at the very least one of the greatest remakes ever produced. Do yourself a huge favour and see this movie.