Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
By: Julian on July 30, 2009  | 
MGM (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0, German DD 2.0, Italian DD 2.0, Spanish DD 2.0. English, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Polish, German Subtitles. 111 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum
Screenplay: W.D. Richter
Country: USA
External Links
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I admit with some chagrin that I haven't seen Don Siegel's 1956 original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, considered by many to be one of the all-time genre greats and an influence on the squelchy venereal horror of Cronenberg and his imitators. Siegel's movie, based on Jack Finney's 1955 novel The Body Snatchers, was remade three times (with even more embarrassment, I admit I've seen all of the remakes at least once) – this, the first; Abel Ferrara's 1993 film which takes the title of the book and brings the crisis to a military base; and the abysmal 2007 effort with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, The Invasion.

Philip Kaufman's adaptation takes the events to the teeming metropolis of San Francisco, where outer-space creatures shower the town and embed themselves on plants, forming pods with pretty flowers. The flowers have the ability to infect people when the victims are asleep, with the original person disintegrating and a "pod person" being generated. The clone is an exact physical and intellectual copy of the original person, but is entirely emotionless.

The first onscreen victim of the body snatchers is Geoffrey, husband to Elizabeth (Brooke Adams). Elizabeth, realising something is seriously wrong with Geoffrey, seeks the help of a colleague, Donald Sutherland's Matthew, a city health inspector. Elizabeth describes her husband's symptoms to Matthew, saying Geoffrey is constantly distant, apathetic and impassive. Matthew convinces her to consult a psychiatrist friend of his, Dr Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), to eliminate any possibility that Geoffrey is depressed, having an affair or has "become a Republican".

Elizabeth and Matthew meet Kibner at a book launch of the psychiatrist's, and they also meet Jack (Jeff Goldblum), a mud bath proprietor and struggling writer pissed off that Kibner is able to churn out "a book every six months, when it takes me six months to write some sentences". When Elizabeth approaches Kibner with her problem, he reveals that he's had a lot of clients recently who have expressed similar complaints about their partners (including one hysterical woman at the book launch), but says it is merely representative of the breakdown of the family unit, the cheapening of matrimony in these promiscuous modern times, etc, etc. When Elizabeth returns home, she finds Geoffrey has left her a gift, a plant, which puts her somewhat at ease.

The turning point is a phone call from Jack, who tells Matthew to get down to his mud baths. There, he reveals a mysterious, featureless form lying on one of the beds, cocooned in a slimy substance, and bearing a slight resemblance to Jack himself. With the authorities of no help, Matthew, Elizabeth, Jack and Dr Kibner race to discover what forces are at work.

I wasn't at all taken by Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Some parts were thoroughly enjoyable but a masterpiece it's not, and the film can often be as bland and uninspired as its chief antagonists. There are, mind you, some incredible scenes (the final one is absolutely chilling) but unfortunately they're few and far between. WD Richter's adaptation is what lets the film down the most, the first forty minutes moving at an unnecessarily plodding pace. As much as that build-up is inherent to the nature of the story, Richter would have done well not including a number of scenes of dialogue; that they weren't snipped in editing is also a surprise, because at almost two hours, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a pretty long horror film.

What does elevate Invasion of the Body Snatchers to above-average is Philip Kaufman's command of the screen as the director. When Richter's mostly inadequate screenplay calls for it, Kaufman galvanises the viewer; this is helped too by mostly good acting on Sutherland and Goldblum's parts and, as I've said above, a few very good scenes. Sutherland and Brooke Adams also have great chemistry in their roles but a lot of the dialogue in the first act just isn't necessary. What I just don't get is the unnerving eeriness that many profess makes Invasion of the Body Snatchers one of the best body horror flicks around; the concept still translates freshly, but in execution the film has not aged well; I just didn't feel the tension. Something just missed the mark here, and I'm going to put it down to Richter's adaptation, because Kaufman's a good director, and he's directing good performers – he just didn't have the material to complement his and their talents.

Of the three remakes, Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers certainly stands way, way tall above the others, but that's no real achievement – Ferrara's effort, while fun, had even less atmosphere than this, and Invasion '07 shouldn't exist.Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a disappointment – not because it was an overtly bad film, just a dreadfully over-hyped one, with an unnecessarily slow script and a marked lack of any sort of general tension overshadowing some good performances and interesting set pieces.

Picture is presented in 1.85:1, without 16:9 enhancement. It's not a terrific transfer, with some grain and dulled colours, but it's serviceable.
Serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Extra Features
An audio commentary by Philip Kaufman. A good two-disc special edition has been released on R1, with four featurettes, a booklet and theatrical trailer.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn't a horror masterpiece, it's a slightly above-average remake of an adaptation, based on an often hollow and stretched thin screenplay. Redeemed only by a couple of great performances, particularly by Donald Sutherland, and some very well done sequences by Kaufman, Invasion is worth a look mainly because it's so revered. Don't go in expecting your filmgoing world to be rocked, and you might even enjoy it.

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