A strange alien plant life floats down to earth and starts replace human lifeforms with body doubles which are born from large pods, and able to attack their ‘hosts’ while they sleep. Health inspector Matthew Bennell and his friend Elizabeth Driscoll start to realise something is amiss, first Elizabeth’s husband seems to have changed, but soon it is affecting everyone around them. Can they discover what is causing this change, and alert the authorities before the entire city has been taken over?
Paranoia, alien invasion, alien possession, fear, conspiracy.
|Jack Finney||…||(novel “The Body Snatchers”)|
Personally never being one to have been fond of ‘remakes’ or ‘re-imaginings’ Philip Kaufman’s rendering of the Jack Finney tale has always been one of those exceptions to my rule; another being John Carpenter’s The Thing. I have a bit of a personal history with this story relating to Don Siegel’s 1956 original. Back in my youth, when the BBC actually put out quality programming, they used to show old Sci-fi flicks on a Friday, and my mother used to let me stay up and watch them as a weekend treat. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was one of the films I discovered during this time, and as a story it was one which made a massive impact on my innocent mind. The true horror of this, I felt, was the notion that someone you loved or cared about could be replaced by an imposter; the same in every way as their original counterpart, however without the ability to feel emotion. I will admit the thought of this terrified me at the time, and caused quite a period of paranoia as I eyed up my friends and neighbours worrying they might have been replaced in their sleep. It also caused me a few sleepless nights, and more than one nightmare. You would think that because of this I would hate the film, but that could not be any further from the truth, it was one which struck a real chord in my imagination, and one which made a large contribution to my love of ‘fear’ as I developed into the fully fledged horror addict I was to become as an adult. Roll on to Philip Kaufman’s vision of the same story told in a very different way, I did not come to this until into my teens, but remember it had been on my ‘to see’ list for a long time, part of this was down to my mother, yet again. I always thought my mother must have been some sort of closet horror fan, she never admitted it, but a lot of my early experiences into both the genres of horror and sci-fi were down to her. She had gone to see this when it came out at the cinema, and one of the things she liked to do was tell me about the films she had watched, so in this case it was a description of the dog/man amalgamation which appears. The thought of this horrified me at the time, but made sure it stayed in the back of my mind. It is funny but in the extras of this Arrow blu-ray Ben Wheatley talks about his third-party experience with the film in very much the same way, and it made me think was this something parents used to like to do in the ’70s to their kids, tell them about these horrors they were not yet old enough to watch? Who knows, the 70’s was a very strange time!
Part of the success of Kaufman’s vision is the expanse, taking the small town original narrative and stretching it to reach to the larger geographical area, in this case San Francisco. The idea presented here is that horror can be far-reaching and not just confined to a small back of the beyond town, it can affect any where, at any time. In using camera techniques taken largely from noir cinema he manages to inject a very tense, and horrific atmosphere. The way in which he manages to amplify the feelings of uneasiness and paranoia literally drip from every frame of the film as it builds to its dramatic climax. I do not want to go into detail about the ending, however if you have not already seen this where the hell have you been? The contrast between the feeling of the two films could not be any more different, and despite my affection for the 1956 original, I have always found that Kaufman’s was the version which lingered and stayed with me more. This makes the two pieces extremely different animals, so much so that you cannot really see Kaufman’s version as a remake in any traditional sense of the word, more like a separate piece inspired from the same literary base.
The cinematography of Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver) in the case of this film is mind-blowing in the extreme, so many inspired things that to mention them all would be far beyond the scope of this review, and that goes for the special effects too. Arrow have done a fantastic job of rendering this into HD, and it really does allow you to get fully immersed in the artistic elements at play here. One example if you take the initial scene, (the extras on this edition provide some great analysis of the symbolism, plus technical descriptions of how they achieved some of the effects and camerawork), the opening shots of the wider universe, which eventually closes into the micro world surrounding the lives of the main protagonists, is a marvel. One particular highlight is how this introduction moves flawlessly from a planet in the middle of the galaxy to finally introducing us to the female lead Elizabeth (Brooke Adams); which ends on a discussion with her and her husband in which you see the two conversing via a reflection of them in the glass on a door. There are so many moments like this in Body Snatchers, that the sense of the foreboding never relinquishes its grip throughout, in fact it just builds to claustrophobic levels as the story picks up momentum. As the alien takeover spreads, widening the sphere of terror, in contrast the world of the lead characters closes in. We see this played out subtly, little things to start, like a blank stare here and there, or overheard conversations which confirm that feeling of uneasiness, until the real horror is eventually realised. Talking of the camerawork there are some really interesting shots of 70’s San Francisco which give the piece an excellent retro feel, and is reminiscent of Chapman’s other work in Taxi Driver.
While the sets and locations used in Philip Kaufman’s film may have changed in the last 30 years, the themes which inspire fear have not. Just as Invasion of the Body Snatchers translated successfully from 1956 to a 70’s audience, even now you could hold the elements of the story as being pertinent to a modern-day audience. We have the old conspiracy theories here, and big brother is watching you, never more relevent now with current issues of personal data being exploited by online services, and the rise of social media and associated loss of privacy. But for me one thing I found that struck a chord with me personally was how these themes translate to the modern-day rise of a global economy, and a standardising of consumer culture. If you look at any UK high street for example there is a distinct loss of identity, and as this standardising of culture begins to creep into a personal realm I find it is something which represents real terror, to me anyway. As Annette Insdorf discusses in Dissecting the Pod, an extra on the Arrow disc, Kaufman was filming at a time when the hippy, drippy and rather innocent community of San Francisco was changing with the establishment of Silicon Valley, something which did indeed make major changes to the identity of this major city. To add to this the erosion of the self is something we all fear, both within ourselves but also those we hold dear; you only have to see how people react to the thought they may decline into senility in their older years, or if it happens to their loved ones, and so on that level perhaps the story behind Invasion of the Body Snatchers will always be something which strikes a chord, no matter how it is told. Kaufman exploits all these fears to great effect as our lead characters start to suspect that people around them are somehow different from their original selves. The final fear factor I want to talk about is the notion of otherness, we often define ourselves by what we are not, and to know that others are changing around us can provoke real fear. Kaufman again capitalizes on this brilliantly, the people involved know people are changing, but they are not quite sure how or why, and this is compounded in the fantastic scene where we see a cameo from Kevin McCarthy, hero of the original, screaming ‘they’re coming!!!’ and the reactions of those around him who have changed. As Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) try to make sense of this they still try to pursue traditional avenues to get help, calling the police, talking to a psychiatrist, and it is this breaking down of normality, and the idea that a secret ‘other’ or enemy can sneak in right before our eyes leaving us vulnerable and without support, that is perhaps that most horrifying aspect of all, and a theme which is prevalent throughout the film.
Of course as well as the excellent story, script, and technical aspects at work here we also have a stellar cast and outstanding performances. The stoical Donald Sutherland as health inspector Matthew Bennell gives an extremely solid depiction; Matthew is the voice of reason and we are lead to believe we can trust him to sort things out, but when he starts to worry you know things really are messed up. The pragmatic approach of his character as a can-do sort of guy really does add to the resonance of the final scene. Brooke Adams, as Elizabeth Driscoll makes a brilliant counterpart, she still has those scientific attributes, but she is also one of the most perceptive and intuitive characters, and I really enjoyed the chemistry between the two. Leonard Nimoy as the counsellor Dr. David Kibner (a self-help sort of hippy doctor) is inspired casting, because he goes against the grain of how you expect him to be, from his previous role as Spock, and this sort of messes with your mind. It also has to be mentioned Jeff Goldblum as Jack Bellicec brings his usual quirky and erratic acting traits into his role, along with a large dose of dry wit. His counterpart Veronica Cartwright as wife Nancy is beautifully fragile, but extremely perceptive, giving a strong supporting performance. One thing I loved about Kaufman’s film was that it was the female characters which are the most intuitive, they are the ones that figure things out, and to some degree find a way of dealing with things, which differs from the original ‘one man figures it out and saves the world’ narrative. As well as the Kevin McCarthy cameo keep your eyes peeled for apperances from Don Seigel and Robert Duvall.
This blu-ray package comes with an amazing array of extras which take a while to soak up, which definitely add to understanding Kaufman’s vision for fans and newcomers alike.
So if you haven’t already picked this up I really suggest you make it one of your must buys for the new year, brilliant after all these years, just as dreadful and horrifying as I remember it at least. Now with a HD upgrade some of the excellent technical aspects really can be marvelled at in their crystal clear glory. Despite the age of this film it still remains pertinent to a modern-day audience, a thrilling piece of thought- provoking science fiction with horrific elements.
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film
- Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 audio / 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary with director Philip Kaufman
- Discussing the Pod: A new panel conversation about Invasion of the Body Snatchers and invasion cinema featuring critic Kim Newman and filmmakers Ben Wheatley and Norman J. Warren
- Dissecting the Pod: A new interview with Kaufman biographer Annette Insdorf
- Writing the Pod: A new interview with Jack Seabrook, author of “Stealing through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney” about Finney’s original novel ‘The Body Snatchers’
- Re-Visitors from Outer Space: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod – a documentary on the making of the film featuring Philip Kaufman, Donald Sutherland, writer W.D. Richter and more
- The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod – a look at the film’s pioneering sound effects
- The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod – cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) discusses the look of and influences on the visual style of the film
- Practical Magic: The Special Effect Pod – A look at the creation of the special effects from the opening space sequence
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh
- 52 page collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns, as well as re-prints of classic articles including contemporary interviews with Philip Kaufman and W.D. Richter, illustrated with original archive stills and posters