Sunday, 29 December 2013

MOVIE: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

US 1978, 115m, United Artists

Blu-Ray: Arrow Films (UK)

Public health department worker Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is alerted to an increasing number of incidents where people are reporting severe behavioural changes in their loved ones. Some are going so far as to say that they have become different people overnight. When his close friend and colleague Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) reports a similar tale regarding her boyfriend, he becomes genuinely concerned. Are the city's population being replaced and replicated? And, who or what is replacing them?

Anyone even considering a "re-imagining" of a classic should be made to sit down and watch this first. Taking Don Siegel's 1956 adaptation of Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers as his template, director Philip Kaufman showed us all exactly how to take a beloved favourite and transport it to another place (geographical, chronological and dimensional) with all of its brilliance intact. For me, he even manages to surpass it, albeit by the very narrowest of margins. The passing years have not diminished its power - Kaufman's vision is well served by an intelligent screen play by WD Richter, superb lead performances, plus sterling support from Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum.

Paranoid, stark, unsettling, real edge-of-the-seat stuff, this is a film which will leave you with plenty to think about long after the credits roll. On every level, this Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a touchstone of the genre just as much as its illustrious predecessor.


Blu-Ray Notes: Well, it's from Arrow Films, so you know it's gonna be good. The only fly in the ointment is a very disappointing 5.1 surround track which renders the opening music as though it's being played on a chewed up cassette. Thankfully, the original Dolby Stereo track sounds incredible and still serves the film perfectly. The cinematography of Michael Chapman is showcased brilliantly by a marvellous transfer from the original interpositive negative. 

There's lots of nice extras both on the disc and in the accompanying booklet. Cast and crew share their memories, Philip Kaufman's commentary from the DVD is thankfully included, and directors Norman J Warren and Ben Wheatley both share some interesting views on the film. 

Comparing this release with MGM's previous DVD is an absolute revelation - an unreservedly recommended purchase. If you can get the lovely steelbook edition, all the better.

Before I look at two more recent adaptations of this tale, here's the original trailer for the 1978 release...

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FOOTNOTE: The Other Versions...

Body Snatchers (1993)

Any adaptation with story/script involvement from both Stuart Gordon and Larry Cohen should have a lot going for it, and transplanting the premise to a military base provides an effective and claustrophobic twist. Certainly not without its moments (there are some very good set pieces), but performances are variable (a small supporting turn from Forest Whittaker is a godsend). Uneven direction from Abel Ferrara does it no favours either - if only Cohen or Gordon had directed it... Well worth a look, though.


The Invasion (2007)

Delayed and plagued with production problems, the end product was one of my biggest cinematic disappointments of the last ten years. I would love to see director Oliver Hirschbiegel's original vision. However, Warner Bros felt it needed beefing up, drafting in the Warchowski Brothers for rewrites and hiring James McTeigue to reshoot virtually the entire final third of the movie and ramp up the action quotient. It looks like a few reels from a completely different film have been grafted on to the end, and undoes all the good work of what has preceded it.

The Invasion is a textbook example of what happens when films are made by a committee using demographics, resulting in a movie which is ultimately more soulless than its alien invaders. A great shame, as the first hour or so is rather good, and Nicole Kidman carries it extremely well. A small role for Veronica Cartwright (of the 1978 version) perhaps indicates what the original director was aiming to emulate.

7.5/10 for the first hour
1/10 for the rest

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