CAPSULE: This is a film that is pretty good until it turns bad. The fourth adaptation of THE BODY SNATCHERS has some thoughtful and intelligent additions to the telling. Sadly, in the last twenty minutes the film goes terribly sour as it metamorphoses into another mindless action film with a much too Hollywood ending. Nichole Kidman stars as the psychiatrist whose patients start reporting that the people around them are turning strange. And they are right. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
THE INVASION is an adaptation of Jack Finney's 1955 novel THE BODY SNATCHERS. Aliens in the form of seedpods can replicate humans almost precisely, but they cannot mimic emotions. Once they replicate a human he mysteriously disappears and the alien takes his place as a sort of changeling.
It is a little hard to know what to say about the fourth time around on adapting THE BODY SNATCHERS to film. This is one of the rare films I went into with low expectations and came out with mixed opinions. While this could be considered the third remake of the 1956 version of the film, it is really the first remake of the 1978 version. When Philip Kaufman directed that film he had a really fresh take on Don Siegel's 1956 version, THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. First let me say that the 1956 version was itself a fresh take on the horror genre. Throughout the first half of the 20th century most film monsters were the victims of runaway emotions. The Wolf Man did not want the moon to rise because it would free he urges to kill. The Frankenstein monster vented his rage on a world that was unfair and cruel to him. Hyde was man without inhibitions. Only the monsters that were agents of evil controllers had no emotions of their own. Cesare, Kharis, and zombies were pretty much automata. But people who controlled them and were in turn controlled by their passions were the source of the evil.
Jack Finney's novel THE BODY SNATCHERS (once intended to be titled SLEEP NO MORE) suggested that the threat from outer space was going to bleach out our emotions and leave us like machines. The basic idea was that if you fall asleep you would lose everything that makes you human, a scary one. The 1956 film adaptation told that story very well. But Philip Kaufman understood better perhaps how the background of scenes and almost subsonic sounds on the soundtrack could be brought into play and really enhance the mood of claustrophobia and paranoia. His 1978 version was one of the rare examples of a remake of a good film that is arguably even better. Now THE INVASION certainly has some of the Siegel version's plot, but it has a lot more of the feel of Kaufman's paranoiac approach. And as with the Kaufman version, much of what is interesting or terrifying happens subtly in the background.
Unfortunately, the large store of intelligence that is in this film is itself bleached out in the final twenty minutes. There the film turns into a mindless action romp with violence and crashing cars and an ending that will have fans of the original story cringing. The last twenty minutes are the worst twenty minutes of any of the four film versions. But before that twenty minutes there appears to have been some interesting thinking about the plot. The film dispenses with the novel's whole "second body" device, which was nothing but a distraction raising more questions than it answered. One character's observation that "civilization seems to crumble just when it is needed most" is painfully accurate and deserves to be remembered. I have always thought it would be interesting to redo the story form the point of view that the metamorphosis is actually a blessing. That is not how the idea is handled here, but there is a wistful nod to the fact that in some ways the world would be better off with the change. Those who have changed seem to be violent only to protect their new ideology. Of course that may be an old story in human history.
The 1978 version had a small part for Kevin McCarthy, the star of the 1956 version. This version has a somewhat larger role for Veronica Cartwright, who played a major character in 1978. Nicole Kidman is a better actress than her roles generally demand. But she is getting a little old to play the attractive blond lead and hopefully some better character roles will soon come her way. Jeremy Northam is good as a straight actor, but a little over the top when he has to play it strange (as he did in the under-appreciated film CYPHER). We see him here as vacant and spacey as a metamorphosed character, and like the other spore-people he plays the role too completely flat. There would be no question in anybody's minds that this guy has gone bizarre in some way. That is just not how the role should be played. If all the possessed acted so weirdly, it would tip the aliens' hand. This performance is right out of INVADERS FROM MARS. Daniel Craig is a good actor and had some very good roles earlier in his career. He now has box-office appeal for people who want to see this James Bond on the screen again. But I kept waiting for him to do something interesting in THE INVASION and it never happens. With his fame as Bond he should be in more interesting roles, not less. One of the genuine pleasures of the film is seeing characters actors who feel like old friends. Here we have Josef Sommer and also Roger Rees who for me will forever be Nicholas Nickleby.
This is openly rumored to have been in large part reshot to add more action. I suspect the film would have been much better left alone. I rate THE INVASION +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0427392/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper