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Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Director: Philip Kaufman
Screenplay: W.D. Richter (based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney)
Stars: Donald Sutherland (Matthew Bennell), Brooke Adams (Elizabeth Driscoll), Jeff Goldblum (Jack Bellicec), Veronica Cartwright (Nancy Bellicec), Leonard Nimoy (Dr. David Kibner), Art Hindle (Geoffrey Howell), Lelia Goldoni (Katherine Hendley), Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Miles J. Bennell), Don Siegel (Taxi Driver), Tom Luddy (Ted Hendley), Stan Ritchie (Stan), David Fisher (Mr. Gianni), Tom Dahlgren (Detective), Garry Goodrow (Dr. Boccardo), Jerry Walter (Restaurant Owner)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1978
Country: U.S.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-Ray + DVD
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Over the past decade, at least since the Michael Bay-produced remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), we have been inundated at the multiplex with remakes of horror classics. This is not necessarily a new development, as the horror genre has always thrived on re-envisioning and reworking archetypal scenarios of fear, whether they revolve around reanimating dead bodies or people turning into animals (it is in this sense that horror stories are fundamentally folkloric in nature). Yet, there is something decidedly modern (and blatantly commercial) about the recent spate of remakes, primarily because the films make it hard to escape the sneaking suspicion that they are little more than blunt opportunism to cash in on the ability to sell a new generation on a familiar title. These remakes show little, if any, respect for their forebears or desire to elaborate on them beyond pumping them up with empty style, and as a result they play as little more than jacked up reincarnations of something that was done better several decades earlier.

It would seem that Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a reworking of Don Siegle’s B-movie classic of the same title from 1956, would be a distinct forerunner of this tendency, but it is actually the antithesis of everything that is currently happening and a template for how to do a horror remake right. Rather than simply exploiting a familiar title, Kaufman’s film takes the basic premise from Siegle’s film (both of which draw from Jack Finney’s mid-1950s serialized novel The Body Snatchers) and reimagines it for a different era and a different place, thus making the material entirely new and giving added credence to its deep roots in the fundamental human fear of losing one’s identity. While Siegle’s film played as an paranoid extension of the McCarthy era, suggesting the terrors of small town conformism and the punishment of those who don’t go along with the political status quo, Kaufman’s version (smartly scripted by W.D. Richter, who had previously penned the crime comedy Slither and Peter Bogdanovich’s underappreciated Nickelodeon), satirizes the self-absorbed absurdity of cosmopolitan San Francisco in the Carter years, where self-help gurus, Turkish bath house, and a general air of personal self-indulgence conspire to make it all the more difficult to differentiate humans from pod people.

Kaufman’s film begins on a desolate, dying planet (depicted with fantastically low-budget effects) where gelatinous spores--the seeds that will eventually take over the human race--emerge from a kind of primordial ooze and float into the vacuum of outer space, eventually making their way to Earth, where they attach to various plants, sprout roots, and grow into pretty red flowers that people take home, unaware that they will eventually grow into pods that replicate and then destroy them. The protagonists are two employees of the San Francisco health department: Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams). Matthew is a workaholic, intent on uncovering any and all restaurant health violations (at one point in a lab he scrutinizes a baked potato), while Elizabeth is a plant expert who is one of the first to pluck and bring home one of the space flowers. That flower quickly overtakes her boyfriend, a sports-obsessed dentist named Geoffrey (Art Hindle) who can barely take his eyes off the TV and kiss her hello lest he miss a big play. Once he is replicated, however, Geoffrey is all business, a personality change that Elizabeth immediately senses, even if everyone else writes it off, including a famed self-help psychiatrist named Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), who sees Elizabeth’s cocern as little more than a subconscious ploy for her to escape from a meaningless relationship (Elizabeth’s largely unacknowledged attraction to Matthew, who is himself curiously unattached, is palpable).

The other primary characters are Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum), a frustrated would-be poet and good friend of Matthew’s, and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), who runs a Turkish bath where overweight men submerge themselves in mud and steam in the hopes of cleansing something. Like Matthew and Elizabeth, Jack and Nancy provide the film with fully realized characters who genuinely have something to lose to the space pods; unlike so many cardboard horror victims, they have clever, distinct personalities that we might miss. The setting in late-’70s San Francisco gives room for the characters to have an added dimension of eccentricity--some might say kookiness--that defines them (Nancy at one point states her unquestioned belief that the human race is a result of monkeys breeding with spacemen). To lose that is to lose their humanity.

Working with cinematographer Michael Chapman (who shot Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), Kaufman gives Invasion of the Body Snatchers a great neo-noir feel long before such an approach was trendy and overused. Interiors are shot with blankets of trapezoidal shadows and canted camera angles, and exteriors tend to emphasize a looming sense of danger, even amid the Northern California beauty (in one of the first scenes we briefly glimpse Robert Duvall in an uncredited cameo as a priest on a swing whose menacing blank stare suggests he has become a pod). Without being overbearing, Kaufman makes us feel the tension in the way cosmopolitan anonymity can give way to paranoia and conspiracy (in the DVD commentary, he shares that some of the creepy shots of apparent pod people walking the streets were taken surreptitiously without actors). The filmmakers’ respect for the original film is borne out in both the fidelity to and era-appropriate extension of its underlying fears, but also in funny ways, like the casting of director Don Siegle as a taxi driver and original star Kevin McCarthy as a version of his 1956 character two decades later, still ranting and raving that “They’re already here!”

Much to his chagrin, Siegle was hemmed in by production dictates and forced to frame his paranoid story with a suggestion of hope and victory, which Kaufman is able to jettison, much to the film’s benefit. Kaufman, who would go on to great acclaim in the 1980s for The Right Stuff (1983) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), is also able to include a lot more humor, which he deploys with malevolent subtlety, but without ever undermining the film’s giddy and overwhelming aura of tension. He also exploits to great effect the then-new developments of Dolby stereo sound (Ben Burtt, who did much of the sound design on Star Wars and later WALL•E, was an important collaborator), which gives the on-screen visuals an added aura of otherworldly grossness. One of the film’s greatest sound effects is “the scream,” a horrifying screech the pod people use to identify residual humans (Abel Ferrara made even better use of it in his criminally underseen 1993 film Body Snatchers). As a result, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the great sci-fi horrorshows, a movie that gooses you with its premise, makes you laugh and jump, and ultimately leaves you with something you can’t quite shake.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-Ray + DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by director Philip Kaufman
  • “Re-Visitors From Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod” featurette
  • “Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod” featurette
  • “The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod” featurette
  • “The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod” featurette
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    Release DateSeptember 14, 2010

    Making its debut in 1080p high definition, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, presented in its true 1.85:1 aspect ratio, looks better on this Blu-Ray than it has ever looked on home video. Those expecting a super-sharp image will invariably be disappointed, as the image very much reflects the filmic look of a relatively low-budget late-’70s movie, which means a slightly soft image with a visible veneer of grain. The transfer handles the look very well, with significantly less dirt and damage than the previous DVD editions and a noticeable improvement in detail, especially in the close-ups. Kaufman’s use of gaudy colors, particularly sickly greens and garish purple-blues, are very well rendered, although many of the shots have a general murkiness that is likely inherent to the film’s look. The remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack does a great job of showing off the film’s creepy sound effects, especially the unearthly pod noises and those awful screams. Dialogue is clear, although at times it seemed a bit low in relation to the rest of the mix.
    All of the supplements are housed on the repackaged 2007 “Collector’s Edition” DVD. There is an informative audio commentary by director Philip Kaufman, who provides all kinds of background about the film’s production. “Re-Visitors From Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod” (16 min.) brings together many of the film’s participants, including Kaufman, screenwriter W.D. Richter, and star Donald Sutherland. “Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod” (13 min.) covers the clever, low-budget approach to the film’s generally impressive visual effects, while “The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod” (6 min.) focus on Ben Burtt’s sound design work (some of the pod sounds came from his wife’s ultrasound) and “The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod” explores Michael Chapman’s noirish cinematography.

    Overall Rating: (4)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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